“A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces,
but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
John F. Kennedy
Today, March 3, 1865 marks the 150th anniversary of the day President Abraham Lincoln signed a law to establish a national soldiers and sailors asylum. It was signed a month before the Civil War ended and the day before his second inauguration. Its roots can be traced back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians.
The Pilgrims passed a law that stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. Later, the Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War, providing pensions to disabled soldiers. In the early days of the Republic, individual states and communities provided direct medical and hospital care to Veterans. Then, in 1811, the federal government authorized the first domiciliary and medical facility for Veterans. Also in the 19th century, the nation’s Veterans assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for Veterans, but for their widows and dependents.
It wasn’t until 1873 that the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was established. It was the first-ever government institution created specifically for honorably discharged volunteer soldiers. The first national home opened November 1, 1866, near Augusta, Maine. These national homes were often called “soldiers’ homes” or “military homes,” and only soldiers who fought for the Union Army—including U.S. Colored Troops—were eligible for admittance.
The sprawling campuses became the template for future generations of federal Veterans’ hospitals. Because of President Lincoln, today the United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for Veterans of any nation in the world.
Thank you President Lincoln for being the first in our government to have the compassion and the forethought to look after all of our past, present and future war veterans. Our men of honor.