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Of the two million U.S. troops sent to Europe during World War I, more than 100,000 died, and 200,000 were wounded. When the soldiers returned they had a new system for veterans benefits.
The U.S. has given benefits to those who have served in the Armed Forces since the colonial days. But as the nation amassed 2 million troops to send to Europe in 1917, Congress established a new system of veterans benefits. The plans for World War I veterans included programs for disability compensation, insurance for service personnel and veterans and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled.
In 1919, the American Legion was chartered by Congress as a patriotic veterans organization. The American Legion’s efforts in the 1920s resulted in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the forerunner of the Department of Veterans Affairs we have today. The VA is the second largest federal agency, behind the Department of Defense, with more than 200,000 employees.
The mission statement of today’s VA is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
In 2016, there were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans representing less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population.
The number of people on active duty has dropped significantly from the draft era of the 1960s.
There were 3.5 million on active duty in 1968, and about 1.3 million active duty service members today. There are also about 800,000 reserve forces in the Department of Defense.
In 2016, women made up about 9 percent of veterans, and the VA expects that number to double by 2045.
Veterans and PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder may be caused by many events including violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat and other forms of violence.
Thousands of veterans returning from combat encouraged the VA to create the nation’s largest research center for the treatment of PTSD. In 2017, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is studying the relationship between genetics, metabolics and neuronal markers and PTSD.
The center is telling veterans that trauma-focused psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for PTSD.
A tradition that began honoring World War I veterans and is still popular on Veterans Day and Memorial Day is wearing of red poppies. The tradition began after a Canadian soldier, Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D., had his poem “In Flanders Fields” published.
McCrae’s inspiration came from the red poppies growing around the graves for fallen soldiers in France and Belgium.
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.
-Lt. Col. John McCrae
McCrae was a Canadian physician and poet who fought in Belgium. He wrote the poem after a close friend was killed in action.
In November 1918, Moina Michael of New York was inspired by the poem and began to use red poppies as a memorial emblem.
In 1921, the American Legion sought to connect the visual image of the poppy with the sacrifice made by our veterans.
On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, millions of handmade red crepe paper poppies are distributed across the country in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans.
In 2017, American Legion Auxiliary members raised more than $5.5 million from poppy donations, which was used exclusively to support active-duty military, veterans and their families through the Auxiliary outreach program services.
Where vets live
Sources: National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, Repères, The Associated Press, The American Legion, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
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