History and Jurisdiction
The Committee on Veterans' Affairs of the House of Representatives was authorized by enactment of Public Law 601, 79th Congress, which was entitled "Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946." Section 121(a) of this Act provides: "there shall be elected by the House at the commencement of each Congress the following standing committees": Nineteen Committees are listed and No. 18 quotes: "Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to consist of 27 Members." This Act has since been amended so that there are now 22 Standing Committees in the House of Representatives. The number of Members (Representatives) authorized to serve on each Committee has been changed from time to time. There are currently 29 members of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
The Committee on Veterans' Affairs is the authorizing Committee for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Committee recommends legislation expanding, curtailing, or fine-tuning existing laws relating to veterans' benefits. The Committee also has oversight responsibility, which means monitoring and evaluating the operations of the VA. If the Committee finds the that VA is not administering laws as Congress intended, then it is "corrected" through the hearing process and legislation. We are the voice of Congress for veterans in dealings with the VA.
Legislation Within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
- Veterans' measures generally.
- Pensions of all the wars of the U.S., general and special.
- Life insurance issued by the government on account of service in the Armed Forces.
- Compensation, vocational rehabilitation, and education of veterans.
- Veterans' hospitals, medical care, and treatment of veterans.
- Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief.
- Readjustment of servicemen to civilian life.
- National Cemeteries.
The Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established March 15, 1989, with Cabinet rank, succeeding the Veterans Administration and assuming responsibility for providing federal benefits to veterans and their dependents. Led by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA is the second largest of the 14 Cabinet departments and operates nationwide programs of health care assistance services and national cemeteries.
Care for veterans and dependents spans centuries. The last dependent of a Revolutionary War veteran died in 1911, the War of 1812's last dependent died 44 years ago, the Spanish American War's, in 1962. There are widows and children of Civil War and Indian War veterans who still draw VA benefits. Some 2,190 children and widows of Spanish-American War veterans are receiving VA compensation or pension benefits. The last American Doughboy, Corporal Frank Buckles, passed away on February 27, 2011. His passing signified the passing of the last of the World War I veterans.
Chronological History of the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Veterans Administration was created by Executive Order S.398, signed by President Herbert Hoover on July 21, 1930. At that time, there were 54 hospitals, 4.7 million living veterans, and 31,600 employees.
The Board of Veterans Appeals was established.
On June 22, President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944. (Public Law 346, was passed unanimously by the 78th Congress). This law offered home loan and education benefits to veterans.
The Department of Medicine & Surgery was established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, renamed the Veterans Health Administration in 1991.
The Department of Veterans Benefits was established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Benefit Administration.
The National Cemetery System (except for Arlington National Cemetery) was transferred to the VA.
Legislation to elevate VA to Cabinet status was signed by President Reagan.
March 15. VA became the 14th Department in the President's Cabinet.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ historic legacy is captured in the Committee’s hearing rooms in the Cannon House Office Building, Rooms 334 and 340. The Committee has been formerly known by many names including the Committee on Naval Affairs and the Committee on World War Veterans’ Affairs. After the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Committee became formally known as the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Even though the Committee’s name has changed over the years, its mission has remained constant – to represent America’s veterans, their families, and survivors.
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ main hearing room, Room 334, was built in the Beaux-Arts style, with a dome ceiling, designed by the New York architecture firm Carrère and Hastings. The room provides a view of the Capitol. Behind the dais stand 21 flags representing congressionally chartered Veterans Service Organizations with which the Committee works closely. The flags provide visitors with a physical representation of the veterans who have directly impacted the work of the Committee. The Committee’s hearing rooms represent the voice of the veterans on Capitol Hill.
The Committee’s hearing rooms also contain original artwork. In Room 334, portraits of the Committee Chairmen Robert Stump, Herbert Ray Roberts, and G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery hang.
In 1976, artist Robert Williams painted World War II and Korean War Navy veteran Chairman Herbert Ray Roberts to celebrate his tenure as Chairman from 1975-1981. In 1982, the VFW Post 1830 presented the portrait of the “Montgomery G.I. Bill” author, 1981-1994 Chairman G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, painted by Thomas Nielsen. Chairman Montgomery also served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War. On November 10, 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Montgomery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor. In 1999, artist Michael Del Priore painted Chairman Stump’s portrait to commemorate the six years the U.S. Navy veteran served as Chairman from 1995-2001.
Room 334 also contains a statue of Audie L. Murphy with a gold placard, which reads, “America’s Most Decorated Citizen Soldier, WWII 1924-71.” In addition, a grandfather clock was presented to the Committee in 1967 by the members from the Veterans Administration Domiciliary from White City, Oregon, and stands in the room.
In Room 340 hang the portraits of Chairmen Edith Nourse Rogers, John Rankin, Olin Teague, and William J.B. Dorn. In 1950, Chandler Christy painted Chairman Rogers, the first female and first Chairman of the current Committee, who served from 1947-1948 and again in 1953. Margaret Brisbane’s 1939 portrait of Chairman John Rankin, chair of the Committee from 1949-1952 is also in Room 340. A portrait of Chairman Olin Teague, painted by Ralph Chase in 1962, represents his chairmanship of 1955-1972. Teague was a highly decorated World War II veteran, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The last portrait in the room is that of World War II veteran and 1973-1974 Chairman, William J.B. Dorn painted by Robert Williams in 1974.
Room 340 has been the home of veterans’ hearings since 1920. In 1967, Room 334 became the Committee’s main hearing room. Both rooms contain the Committee’s library with the oldest document dating back to the 67th Congress (circa 1920), The House Committee on Military Affairs Hearings. The Committee’s library contains Committee hearings, printed bills, and the Committee rules. The library also holds other materials pertaining to the history of veterans’ legislation of the United States.
A new feature in Room 334 is the POW/MIA chair, which sits in the front row of the room. On March 26, 2012, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller unveiled the empty chair draped with the official POW/MIA flag to honor America’s Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.
In 1970, the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia contracted Norman Rivkees, Vice President of Annin & Company, and Newt Heisley, former World War II pilot, to design a flag as a symbol for America’s POW/MIAs. The flag is a black and white silhouette of a man, a strand of barbed wire, and a watchtower.
Roughly 19 years after the flag’s inception, the POW/MIA flag was installed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda mandated by legislation passed by the 100th Congress. The POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever displayed in the Rotunda. On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, which officially recognized the POW/MIA flag and designated it “as the symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.”
As of March 2012, the Department of Defense lists 83,000 Americans missing or unaccounted since World War II. The League remains committed to return all U.S. prisoners and the Committee’s Chair is representative of that hope.
Sources: the Curator of the House of Representatives, the Office of Art and Archives, Office of the Clerk, House of Representatives, CRS: "History of House Committees Consdiering Veterans' Legislation," U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Historian, and the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.