Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Government-run Military Veteran Benefit System

Department of Veterans Affairs

Seal of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Agency overview
Formed July 21, 1930
Preceding agency Veterans Administration
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters 810 Vermont Avenue NW Washington, DC United States
Employees 278,565 (2008)
Annual budget $87.6 billion (2009)
Agency executives Eric Shinseki, Secretary
W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary
Child agency  

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. It is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors. The benefits provided include disability compensation, pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, survivors’ benefits, medical benefits and burial benefits. It is administered by the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.


It was formerly called the Veterans Administration, also called the VA, which was established July 21, 1930, to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The VA incorporated the functions of the former U.S. Veterans' Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

On October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating a new federal Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs to replace the Veterans Administration effective March 15, 1989.

In both its old and new forms, the VA drew its mission statement from an extract of President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address: " care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."


Long Beach VA medical centerIt is a single-payer government-run health-care system, and the American government’s second largest department, after the United States Department of Defense. With a total 2009 budget of about $87.6 billion, VA employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs lists several benefits for veterans including education, home loans, deferred compensation, pension, survivors' benefits, burial, vocational rehabilitation, employment, and life insurance. A VA medical center in Palo AltoThe Department of Veterans Affairs is headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The current Secretary of Veterans Affairs is Ret. General Eric Shinseki.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations, each headed by an Undersecretary:

  • Veterans Health Administration - responsible for providing health care in all its forms, as well as for medical research
  • Veterans Benefits Administration - responsible for initial veteran registration, eligibility determination, and five key lines of business (benefits and entitlements): Home Loan Guaranty, Insurance, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and Compensation & Pension
  • National Cemetery Administration - responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of VA cemeteries

Costs for care

As is common in any time of war, recently there has been an increased demand for nursing home beds, injury rehabilitation, and mental health care. VA categorizes veterans into eight priority groups and several additional subgroups, based on factors such as service-connected disabilities, and one’s income and assets (adjusted to local cost of living). Veterans with a 50% or higher service-connected disability as determined by a VA regional office “rating board” (e.g., losing a limb in battle, PTSD, etc) are provided comprehensive care and medication at no charge. Veterans with lesser qualifying factors who exceed a pre-defined income threshold have to make co-payments for care for non-service-connected ailments and pay $8 per 30-day supply for each prescription medication. VA dental and nursing home care are more restricted. Reservists and National Guard who served stateside in peacetime settings or have no service-related disabilities generally do not qualify for VA benefits. VA in recent years has opened hundreds of new convenient outpatient clinics in towns across America, while steadily reducing inpatient bed levels at its hospitals.

VA’s budget has been pushed to the limit in recent years by the War on Terrorism. In December 2004, it was widely reported that VA’s funding crisis had become so severe that it could no longer provide disability ratings to veterans in a timely fashion. This is a problem because until veterans are fully transitioned from the active-duty TRICARE healthcare system to VA, they are on their own with regard to many healthcare costs. The VA has worked to cut down screening times for these returning combat vets (they are now often evaluated by VA personnel well before their actual discharge), and they receive first priority for patient appointments. VA’s backlog of pending disability claims under review (a process known as “adjudication”) peaked at 421,000 in 2001, and bottomed out at 254,000 in 2003, but crept back up to 340,000 in 2005.

No copayment is required for VA services for veterans with military-related conditions. VA-recognized service-connected disabilities include problems that started or were aggravated due to military service. Veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, as well as state-operated Veterans Affairs offices and County Veteran Service Officers (CVSO), have been known to assist veterans in the process of getting care from the VA.

In the United States Federal Budget for fiscal year 2009, President George W. Bush, requested $38.7 billion - or 86.5% of the total Veterans Affairs budget - for veteran medical care alone.

Veterans Benefits Administration

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is "an organizational element of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs".

Mission of the VBA

The mission of the Veterans Benefits Administration, in partnership with the Veterans Health Administration and the National Cemetery Administration, is to provide benefits including VA guaranteed home loans and other services to the veterans and their families in a responsive, timely and compassionate manner in recognition of their service to the Nation.

Related legislation

  • 1944 - Mustering-out Payment Act PL 78-225
  • 1944 - Servicemen’s Readjustment Act PL 78-346
  • 1944 - Veterans' Preference Act PL 78-359
  • 1952 - Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act PL 82-550
  • 1974 - Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act
  • 1988 - Department of Veterans Affairs Act PL 100-527

See also

  • DD Form 214
  • List of veterans' organizations
  • Old soldiers' home
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs Police
  • Veterans Health Administration
  • Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA)

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