What Is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, established in 1988 by then-President Ronald Reagan, elevated the previous Veterans Administration to a Cabinet-level executive department. This move gave the department a new name that allowed it to still be referred to by its longtime acronym, the “VA.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs comprises three administrations: the Veteran's Health Administration, evolved from the first federal solder's facility established for veterans of the Union Army after the Civil War and later joined by a system of veterans hospitals, clinics and nursing home units; the Veterans Benefits Administration, which supervises the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program and other benefits, including employment and education; and the National Cemetery Administration, which runs 147 national cemeteries across the country.

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs comprises three administrations: the Veteran's Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.
  • The current iteration of the Department of Veterans Affairs provides near-comprehensive healthcare services, disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, life insurance, and burial and memorial benefits to eligible veterans and family members.
  • In the fiscal year 2019 budget, President Donald Trump proposed a $198.6 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $12.1 billion over 2018.

Understanding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The beginning of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs dates back to 1636 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony voted that the Colony would support soldiers disabled by its war with the Native American tribe called the Pequot. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress of 1776 enacted pensions for disabled soldiers. Then, in the 19th century, support was extended to widows and dependents of veterans. Veterans' benefits expanded further during World War I, with the first consolidation of World War I veterans' programs occurring in 1921 when Congress created the Veterans Bureau. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover elevated the Bureau to a federal administration.

The current iteration of the Department of Veterans Affairs provides near-comprehensive healthcare services to eligible military veterans at medical centers and outpatient clinics, in addition to several non-healthcare benefits including disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, and life insurance. The department also provides burial and memorial benefits to eligible veterans and family members at over 100 national cemeteries.

In the fiscal year 2019 budget, President Donald Trump proposed a $198.6 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This was an increase of $12.1 billion over 2018. The department is headed by the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. On March 28, 2018, Robert Wilkie was named by President Trump to serve as the Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Wilkie is the principal advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense for Total Force Management as it relates to readiness; National Guard and Reserve component affairs; health affairs; training; and personnel requirements and management, including equal opportunity, morale, welfare, recreation, and the quality of life for military families.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, like many other organizations, follows a mission statement, which is to "care for those who shave have borne the battle and for their families and survivors." The values that the department follows match its mission. It has 5 values, which go by the acronym "I CARE:" Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. These values are intended to provide a baseline for the standards of behavior expected of all the department's employees.