On July 4, 1776, 13 colonies claimed their independence from England by signing the Declaration of Independence. As important as this date is to our Country’s founding, the date means nothing without the enduring sacrifice that our Country’s Veterans made during the Revolutionary War. Although they were a ragtag bunch, this group represented America’s first united military organization. America has a long history of ensuring that those individuals who risked life and limb to protect our liberties were not forgotten after the war was over.

The United States has one of the most extensive military veterans’ benefits systems of any nation in the world. The first recorded instance of benefits for American soldiers who were disabled as a result of combat dates back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims enacted a law that obligated citizens to support soldiers disabled in defending the colony. The Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments by authorizing pensions for soldiers who were disabled during the Revolutionary War.

In 1862, the federal government established a system for settling veterans’ claims for benefits arising from military service. In 1917, programs were created for compensation, insurance, and vocational rehabilitation for disabled veterans. In 1930, Congress officially established the Veterans Administration to assist the veterans of World War I and earlier wars. In 1989, Congress created the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and elevated the Secretary to a cabinet level position. Today, the VA is the second largest cabinet-level department in the U.S. government with a budget of over $100 billion and over 250,000 employees.