WWII Cadet nurses ‘answered the call of duty,’ deserve veteran status, bill says

Abbie Bennett
April 11, 2019 - 11:58 am

Northwestern University Library

Nearly 120,000 women “answered the call of duty to care for our country during World War II” and deserve veteran status, according to a Congressional bill filed for in the 2019 session.

“We prevented a total collapse of the health care system," Cadet Nurse Elizabeth 'Betty' Beecher, 94, said in a statement. "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.

On April 3, U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Angus King, I-Maine and Steve Daines, R-Mont. re-introduced the “U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act,” which would honor the corps that served during WWII with “honorary veteran status.”

The bill recognizes former cadet nurses’ “service to our country” and would provide honorable discharges, ribbon and medal privileges and certain burial privileges through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would classify the service of the corps as “active military service.”

The bill in its current version would not provide still-living cadet nurses with Veterans Affairs pensions, healthcare or other privileges of active-duty service members.

“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.”

WWII saw a severe shortage of trained nurses, threatening “the nation’s ability to meet domestic and military medical needs,” Warren’s statement reads.

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 military, VA and private hospitals and in public health agencies until the program ended on Dec. 31, 1948.

“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,” the statement reads.

“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 said in a statement. “We are proud to support this bill to acknowledge and recognize these women for their selfless service to their country.”

The bill was endorsed by the American Nurses Association, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the American Organization of Nurse Executives, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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