Learning more about the Department of Veterans Affairs

The Patterson Foundation selected Sarasota National Cemetery as a place to honor the Patterson family legacy of military service. Dorothy and Jim Patterson retired to Sarasota in the late seventies, quietly impacting the community in many positive ways.

The military influence on Jim’s life began early as his father, Colonel Joseph Patterson, was a WWI veteran. Jim, a graduate of West Point, served in WWII and was discharged as an Army Captain. Although Jim and Dorothy are buried in the veterans section of the Ossining (NY) cemetery, they would have been eligible for burial at Sarasota National Cemetery had the cemetery existed in 1992 when Jim died.

Honoring the Patterson family legacy and the service of all veterans to our nation makes this first-of-its-kind partnership between private philanthropy and the Department of Veterans Affairs on an enhancement of this size to a national cemetery all the more exciting.

At this point, I’d like to share some background on the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency that controls Sarasota National Cemetery and 130 other national cemeteries.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was officially formed in 1930, however, this benefits system traces its roots to 1636 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims passed a law that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. Today, the United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world.

Following WWI in 1920, veteran services were administered by three different Federal agencies: the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. In 1930, these three Federal agencies were combined to form the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In 1989, the agency became cabinet level.

Today, the agency still consists of three administrations:

The Veterans Health Administration has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930 to include 171 medical centers; more than 350 outpatient, community, and outreach clinics; 126 nursing home care units; and 35 domiciliaries; VA Sarasota Clinic; the new Bradenton Outpatient Clinic and numerous other community and outreach clinics.

The Veterans Benefits Administration The Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department grew following World War II not only because of the vast increase in veteran population, but also in large number of new benefits enacted by the Congress for veterans of the war. The World War II GI Bill, signed into law on June 22, 1944, is said to have had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act more than a century ago. Further educational assistance acts were passed for the benefit of veterans of the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era, Persian Gulf War, and the All-Volunteer Force.

    In 1973, the Veterans Administration assumed another major responsibility when the National Cemetery System (except for Arlington National Cemetery) was transferred to the Veterans Administration from the Department of the Army. The agency was charged with the operation of the National Cemetery Administration, including the marking of graves of all persons in national and state cemeteries (and the graves of veterans in private cemeteries, upon request) as well and administering the State Cemetery Grants Program.

    Any questions regarding eligibility for health care, benefits or burial should be forwarded to the appropriate Administration using the contact icon on their website.

    Next week, I will be discussing the four types of National Cemeteries.

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