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Bipartisan Bill Would Give WWII Cadet Nurses Veteran Status

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Almost 125,000 nurses ensured the nation had enough care for its citizens at home and abroad during World War II, and now a bipartisan bill would grant them honorary veteran status.

The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act was re-introduced by several U.S. senators last week which would classify the corps as having had “active military service.”

United States Government Printing Office; scan provided by UNT Digital Library, University of North Texas, Denton, TX [Public domain] / Wikipedia

Specifically, the bill would provide cadet nurses with veteran status, including an honorable discharge from service where merited. It would provide limited burial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would also permit the Secretary of Defense to provide honorable discharged nurses with a service medal.

Led by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Angus King (I-Maine), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the bill has been endorsed by the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Organization of Nurse Executives and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“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,” Warren said in a statement. “That’s why I’m proud to re-introduce legislation that recognizes and honors the valuable contributions cadet nurses made during a crucial time in American history.”

During WWII, a severe shortage of qualified nurses threatened America’s ability to meet domestic and military medical needs. In response, Congress established the Cadet Nurse Corps in 1943, an integrated, uniformed service of the Public Health Administration. The Cadet Nurse Corps provided young women with expedited nursing education in exchange for “service in essential nursing for the duration of the war.”

In 1944, the Federal Security Agency identified “national recognition for rendering a vital war service” as a privilege of service in the Corps.

Cadet Nurse Elizabeth “Betty” Beecher was one of those women who joined the corps. She trained to become a cadet nurse, and then served as a nurse at a New York marine hospital near the end of WWII.

“We prevented a total collapse of the health care system,” she 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.”

The legislation would not provide still-living cadet nurses with Veterans Affairs pensions, healthcare benefits, or other privileges afforded to former active-duty service members.

“The cadet nurses answered the call of duty to fill a critical need during World War II,” said American Nurses Association President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN. “We are proud to support this bill to acknowledge and recognize these women for their selfless service to their country.”

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