Springtime is an exciting time for the FRA! During April, our National Board of Directors came to Washington, D.C., to conduct its bi-annual business meeting and share FRA’s legislative priorities with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. These two major events (which will be highlighted in next month’s issue of FRA Today) are critical to charting FRA’s course for the future. FRA leaders also honored the past as they joined Auxiliary members in their annual Pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Mast of the Maine at Arlington National Cemetery. This homage to fallen shipmates continues into May, culminating with an FRA and Auxiliary wreath presentation at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Memorial Day.
It’s important to remember … and honor … those who came before, and this month’s feature article on the Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) program highlights an outstanding way for shipmates and other volunteers to do just that. Participation in the VAVS program and other volunteer endeavors demonstrates a commitment to those who’ve led the way and offers an opportunity to mentor those who follow in our footsteps. These and similar projects also provide an outstanding opportunity to portray FRA and the Auxiliary in a positive light and let non-members know what our organizations are all about.
I encourage all readers to take a special look at this month’s Membership Matters column (page 14) and RPEC Toni O’Neill’s Auxiliary article (page 36). Both provide illuminating examples of the power of positive engagement with current, former and prospective members.
Looking for Keepers, WAVES and DIs:
As editor of FRA Today, I’m excitedly doing research for some of our upcoming feature articles and welcome input from any subject matter experts in our ranks:
I recently had the honor of talking with Shipmate Ismael Torres, Jr. and learning about his experience as a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper. We’ll be highlighting Torres and other keepers in our August issue, and I’m anxious to connect with any other shipmates who served as guardians of the light. I’d also love to talk with any shipmates or Auxiliary members who served as Navy Waves, as we’re also working on an October feature story about women who served in the Navy from 1942 to 1948. And last, but not least, we’ll be honoring Marine Corps Drill Instructors in our November issue and would love to hear from any shipmates who’ve served in that capacity.
To share your stories, please email me at Lauren@fra.org or call me at 800-FRA-1924, ext 126, so that we might set up a time for a brief interview.
This month’s feature highlights the role that volunteers play in strengthening the service and care provided to our nation’s veterans. FRA has a long history in this arena and, on doing a bit of research at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website (va.gov), I was fascinated to learn more about the VA’s distinguished past. Here are some interesting historical facts about the VA:
• The United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world; its roots can be traced back to 1636, when the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The pilgrims passed a law that stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony.
• The Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War, providing pensions to disabled soldiers. In the early days of the Republic, individual states and communities provided direct medical and hospital care to veterans. In 1811, the federal government authorized the first domiciliary and medical facility for veterans. Also in the 19th century, the nation’s veterans’ assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans, but for their widows and dependents.
• The first consolidation of federal veterans’ programs took place on August 9, 1921, when Congress combined all World War I veterans’ programs to create the Veterans Bureau. The second consolidation took place on July 21, 1930, when President Herbert Hoover signed an executive order that elevated the Veterans Bureau to a federal administration — the Veterans Administration — to “consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans.” At that time, the National Homes and Pension Bureau also joined the VA.
• Following World War II, there was a vast increase in the veteran population, and Congress enacted several new benefits for war veterans — the most significant of which was the World War II GI Bill, which was signed into law June 22, 1944. The GI Bill placed the VA second to the War and Navy Departments in funding and personnel priorities. It is said that the GI Bill had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act of 1862.
• The VA was elevated to a cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan in October 1988. The change took effect March 15, 1989, and administrative changes subsequently occurred at all levels. President George H. W. Bush hailed the creation of the new department, saying, “There is only one place for the veterans of America — in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.” The Veterans Administration was then renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, and continued to be known as VA.
• Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) — the largest of the three administrations that comprise the VA — continues to meet veterans’ changing medical, surgical and quality-of-life needs. VA has opened outpatient clinics, established telemedicine and other services to accommodate a diverse veteran population and continues to cultivate ongoing medical research and innovation to improve the lives of America’s patriots.
• VHA operates one of the largest health care systems in the world and provides training for a majority of America’s medical, nursing and allied health professionals. Roughly 60 percent of all medical residents obtain a portion of their training at VA hospitals; and VA medical research programs benefit society at-large.
As a nation that continues to help its veterans, I would encourage you, FRA shipmates, to become “advocates and mentors” in your local VA centers, hospitals or places where veterans live. Yes, the VA has taken its fair share of hits — and rightfully so — as the department has struggled to better administer the services it provides. Despite these challenges, there are also a lot of positive initiatives. VA Secretary Bob McDonald recently announced that many improvements in infrastructure, customer service protocols and IT updates are coming along very quickly to meet a measurable and higher standard of productivity and service to our vets and their families. As long as there are veterans, there will be a need to care for them and it is up to us, the veterans of today, to demonstrate a continuum of service. Get involved and talk with a veteran. It’s not just saying, “Thank you for your service,” but “How can I help?” PRESS ON!
Tom Snee is FRA’s National Executive Director and can be reached at NEDFRA@fra.org.
Return to Table of Contents