Secretary of Veterans AffairsUpdated: July 7, 2021
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs leads the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for administering veteran benefits, memorials/cemeteries, and health care. The Secretary of the VA is a cabinet-level position, and while there is no formal requirement to lead the agency, most of those who have held the position have been military veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is an important federal agency. It manages “the largest medical education and health professions training program in the United States,” according to VA.gov.
The VA is affiliated with over 100 medical schools, more than 50 dental schools and 1200 other higher education institutions nationwide.
Some 83,000 health professionals are trained every year in VA facilities. VA.gov claims that over half of the physicians practicing medicine in America have had at least “some of their professional education in the VA health care system.”
The VA medical system is available to the Defense Department during national emergencies and as “a federal support organization” in times of major disaster.
A Brief History Of The VA
In 1776,the Continental Congress needed incentives for new recruits–the American Revolution was fought by soldiers who were promised a military pension should they become disabled during the war.
It was the start of a very long journey toward what we understand today as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some five years later in 1881, America saw the creation of its first federal medical facility for veterans.
Veteran benefits would get another look with the United States involvement in World War One. Improved benefits at the time included insurance, disability payments, and vocational rehab.
Some sources report that the VA began as the Veterans Administration in 1930.
However, the VA itself reminds, “Congress in 1921 created the Veterans’ Bureau to consolidate veterans programs managed by three agencies — the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Public Health Service and the Federal Board of Vocational Education.”
By 1924 the bureau had been reorganized into six focus areas:
- Medical and rehabilitation
- Claims and insurance
In 1929, President Hoover proposed a more streamlined version of the agency and in 1930 Veterans Administration was created in response to that. Three separate agencies were united under the VA banner:
- Veterans’ Bureau
- Bureau of Pensions
- National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers
Frank Hines was named as the very first administrator of veterans affairs, and under Hines’ leadership, the agency came into a new era thanks to the passage of the GI Bill in 1944.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was officially established as a Cabinet-level department on March 15, 1989, by President George H.W. Bush.
The Mission Of The Department Of Veterans Affairs
The VA mission statement reaches all the way back to the Civil War as a way to meet the expectations created by President Abraham Lincoln who promised that in return for military service, the federal government should “…care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”
The Secretary Of The Department of Veterans Affairs
Legal authority for the position of Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs is found in Title 38 of the United States Code, Section 301, which states:
“There is a Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who is the head of the Department and is appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
The Secretary of the VA is charged with, “the proper execution and administration of all laws administered by the Department and for the control, direction, and management of the Department.”
In the Office of the Secretary of the VA the following entities work under the Secretary:
- The Veterans Health Administration
- The Veterans Benefits Administration
- The National Cemetery Administration
- The Board of Veterans’ Appeals
- The Veterans’ Canteen Service
- The Board of Contract Appeals
- Other offices and agencies established or designated by law or by the President or the Secretary
Additionally, the office is supported by:
- Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs
- Under Secretary for Health
- Under Secretary for Benefits
- Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
- Assistant Secretaries
- Deputy Assistant Secretaries
- Chief Financial Officer
- Chief Information Officer
- General Counsel
- Inspector General
- Director of Construction and Facilities Management
In cases where the Secretary of Veteran Affairs post is vacant, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs may serve in the top position; the job may also be filled temporarily by the President.
These are Acting Secretary jobs until the position can be formally filled via Presidential appointment and confirmation. In 2021, there were eleven people who served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News