What Is the Veterans Administration?

Founded at the height of the Great Depression in 1930, the Veterans Administration was formerly an independent government agency. It became U.S. Cabinet level in 1989 with the title U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Commonly referred to as “the VA,” the organization provides medical care, benefits, and essential services to veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their families.

Key Takeaways

  • The Veterans Administration today is known as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA.
  • It provides medical care, benefits, and a variety of essential services to veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
  • Examples of financial assistance offered by the VA include disability compensation, education and training, and life insurance and home loans.

What Did the Veterans Administration Do?

The roots of the Veterans Administration date 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. The Continental Congress of 1776 enacted pensions for disabled soldiers during the Revolutionary War. In the 19th century, support was extended to widows and dependents of veterans.

Veterans’ benefits expanded 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 Veterans Bureau to a federal administration, creating the Veterans Administration.

The Veterans Administration provided medical care, benefits, and a variety of essential services to veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their families. It also provided burial and memorial benefits to eligible veterans and family members. Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs performs these functions.

Veterans Administration Becomes U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan promoted the Veterans Administration to U.S. Cabinet level. The change took effect in 1989, and the VA was renamed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides near-comprehensive healthcare services, as well as disability compensation, vocational rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, and life insurance. It has three administrations: the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).

The NCA runs 155 national cemeteries throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, providing benefits for all eligible service members and family members. Burial and memorial benefits include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a burial flag, a headstone/marker, and a presidential memorial certificate.

The primary criteria for receiving VA healthcare benefits require that you be a military veteran or former member of the National Guard or Reserve who served on active duty and was not dishonorably discharged. Specific eligibility depends on when you served and for how long. The rules are complicated but well explained on the VA’s eligibility web page.

Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

As of 2021, the VHA includes 1,293 healthcare facilities, 171 VA medical centers, and 1,112 outpatient sites. It serves more than nine million veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare program. VHA medical centers provide a wide range of medical services to eligible veterans.

The VHA is the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States.

Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)

The VBA makes available a variety of benefits and services that provide financial assistance and other forms of help to service members, their dependents, and survivors. The list includes disability compensation, education and training, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, and job placement assistance.

The VBA also provides federal guarantees of home loans for qualified applicants. To be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan, veterans must have served on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines.

The specific service requirements vary, depending on the time period when a veteran served. A certificate of eligibility is required to obtain a VA loan, and the loan can be obtained through any mortgage lender who participates in the VA home loan program. The VA-guaranteed home loan is one of very few 0% down payment loans available in the United States (the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] Rural Housing Loan is another).