Watch the video below.
“Veterans Affairs: The Human Cost of War” was produced by Steeplechase Films and LP Life Productions.
“VA: The Human Cost of War”
“VA: The Human Cost of War” explores what it does and how it functions, its vast size and critical importance, and its history and provenance — how and why it came into existence, how and why it has changed over time, how it has come to be broken in critical ways in recent generations and how it may be reformed going forward.
Told through a series of personal stories from veterans and intertwined with deep historical and political analysis from leading scholars and elected officials, the film illustrates the key ways in which the VA, and we as a society, fail our veterans, who, according to Department of Veterans Affairs research, continue to commit suicide at the harrowing rate of 20 veterans per day.
The program features interviews with key figures such as: Dr. David J. Shulkin, U.S. Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Beto O’Rourke, U.S. Representative, Texas’ 16th District, Member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; Paul Rieckhoff, First Lieutenant U.S. Army, Ret., Founder & CEO of IAVA; Seth Moulton, Officer Marine Corps, Ret. U.S. Representative, Massachusetts’ 6th District; Linda J. Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard University; and Jean and Howard Somers, the parents of Daniel Somers, a retired Army Intelligence Officer who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and committed suicide on June 10, 2013.
A Brief History of the VA
From the beginning, the English colonies in North America provided pensions for disabled veterans. The first law in the colonies on pensions, enacted in 1636 by Plymouth, provided money to those disabled in the colony’s defense against Indians. Other colonies followed Plymouth’s example.
In 1776 the Continental Congress sought to encourage enlistments and curtail desertions with the nation’s first pension law. It granted half pay for life in cases of loss of limb or other serious disability. But because the Continental Congress did not have the authority or the money to make pension payments, the actual payments were left to the individual states. This obligation was carried out in varying degrees by different states. At most, only 3,000 Revolutionary War veterans ever drew any pension. Later, grants of public land were made to those who served to the end of the war.
In 1789, with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first Congress assumed the burden of paying veterans benefits. The first federal pension legislation was passed in 1789. It continued the pension law passed by the Continental Congress.
By 1808 all veterans programs were administered by the Bureau of Pensions under the Secretary of War. Subsequent laws included veterans and dependents of the War of 1812, and extended benefits to dependents and survivors.
There were 2,200 pensioners by 1816. In that year the growing cost of living and a surplus in the Treasury led Congress to raise allowances for all disabled veterans and to grant half-pay pensions for five years to widows and orphans of soldiers of the War of 1812. This term later was lengthened.
A new principle for veterans benefits, providing pensions on the basis of need, was introduced in the 1818 Service Pension Law. The law provided that every person who had served in the War for Independence and was in need of assistance would receive a fixed pension for life. The rate was $20 a month for officers and $8 a month for enlisted men. Prior to this legislation, pensions were granted only to disabled veterans.
The result of the new law was an immediate increase in pensioners. From 1816 to 1820, the number of pensioners increased from 2,200 to 17,730, and the cost of pensions rose from $120,000 to $1.4 million.
When Congress authorized the establishment of the Bureau of Pensions in 1833, it was the first administrative unit dedicated solely to the assistance of veterans.
The new Bureau of Pensions was administered from 1833 to 1840 as part of the Department of War, and from 1840 to 1849 as the Office of Pensions under the Navy Secretary. The office then was assigned to the new Department of the Interior, and renamed the Bureau of Pensions. In 1858 Congress authorized half-pay pensions to veterans’ widows and to their orphan children until they reached the age of 16.
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