Nearly 120,000 women will finally receive veteran status for their service in World War II when Congress' annual defense spending bill becomes law.
The women of the Cadet Nurse Corps "answered the call of duty to care for our country during WWII" and deserve veterans' benefits, according to a bill filed earlier this year that was later folded into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“We prevented a total collapse of the health care system," Cadet Nurse Elizabeth 'Betty' Beecher, 94, said. "Had we not stepped up and volunteered and enlisted in the Corps, I'm afraid the country would have been demoralized and our boys would have come home to a sick country." Beecher trained to become a corps member in Boston, then served as a nurse at a Staten Island, N.Y. marine hospital during WWII.
WWII saw a severe shortage of trained nurses, which threatened the United States' ability to meet medical demands, both domestic and for deployed service members.
In response, Congress on July 1, 1943 established the Cadet Nurse Corps, an integrated, uniformed service of the Public Health Administration. The women of the corps would go on to serve in the military, VA and private hospitals and in public health agencies until the program ended on Dec. 31, 1948.
The measure in the defense spending bill -- already passed by the House and headed to the Senate and then the president's desk to become law -- requires the Pentagon consider the service of women who served in the corps from July 1, 1943 to Dec. 31, 1948 to be "active military service."
No later than a year after the defense bill becomes law, the Secretary of Defense is required to issue each member of the Cadet Nurse Corps an honorable discharge.
Cadet Nurses will then be entitled to burial benefits and medals and other commendations. The legislation does not provide for major veteran benefits, such as Veterans Affairs pensions or health care provided to other veterans.
“The Cadet Nurses answered the call of duty to fill a critical need during World War II,” American Nurses Association president Ernest J. Grant said. “We are proud to support this bill to acknowledge and recognize these women for their selfless service to their country.”
“When our nation faced a shortage of nurses during World War II, women from across the country took action by joining the Cadet Nurses Corps, where they trained and worked hard to provide Americans with necessary care,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one of the sponsors of the original bill, said in a statement, adding that she was proud to support legislation "that recognizes and honors the valuable contributions cadet nurses made during a crucial time in American history.”