Burdens of War: Creating the United States Veterans Health System

TitleBurdens of War: Creating the United States Veterans Health System
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsAdler, Jessica L.
Number of Pages353
PublisherJohns Hopkins University Press
CityBaltimore, United States

During and after World War I, policy makers, soldiers, and veterans laid the groundwork for the extension of government-sponsored medical care to millions of former service members. In the process, they built a pillar of the American welfare state. Legislation and rehabilitation plans formulated shortly after the U.S. entered the Great War aimed to minimize the government's long-term obligations to veterans, but within a decade, those who had served gained conditional access to their own direct assistance agency and a national system of hospitals. Burdens of War explains why that drastic transition occurred, and how one group of citizens won the right to obtain publicly funded health services. The story of the early roots of service-related health policies has a variety of larger implications. It shows how veterans' welfare shifted from centering on pension and domicile care programs rooted in the nineteenth century to the provision of access to direct medical services; how shifting ideals about hospitals and medical care influenced policy at the dusk of the Progressive Era; how race, class, and gender shaped the health-related experiences of soldiers, veterans, and caregivers; and how interest groups capitalized on a tense political and social climate to bring about change. On a general level, an examination of the roots of a nationwide veterans' hospital system demonstrates how privileges were won in the twentieth-century United States. It reveals a moment of state expansion, but also illustrates the wider tendency of the U.S. government to award entitlements selectively. The policies that paved the way for the advent of a veterans' medical system thus deserve to be considered as foundational in the development and shape of the American welfare state.


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