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Considerations were granted to American war veterans as far back as 1636, when the pilgrims, in the midst of an Indian insurrection, devised a special law providing rights and assistance to those who fought. Various of the early American colonies passed similar laws for disabled veterans, and by the time of the Revolution the benefits concept had been firmly established.

Said Calvin Coolidge in 1920: "The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten." But such platitudes did little to solve the fragmented administration of veterans' affairs, which inevitably was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases. Thus was established, in 1930, the Veterans Administration. Even at its creation the new agency had a budget of $641 million and a staff of 31,500 people, serving roughly 4.7 million living veterans.

Today the annual budget of the VA is more than $20 billion, processed by some 250,000 public servants. There are about 25 million veterans, whose dependents may be three times that number. The VA runs 171 medical centers, 132 nursing-home units and more than 30 clinics. It is a world leader in the treatment of spinal-cord injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders, rehabilitation of the blind and care of the elderly.




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