The Veterans' Affairs committee was created in 1970 to transfer responsibilities for veterans from the Finance and Labor committees to a single panel. From 1947 to 1970, matters relating to veterans compensation and veterans generally were referred to the Committee on Finance, while matters relating to the vocational rehabilitation, education, medical care, civil relief, and civilian readjustment of veterans were referred to the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.
Congressional legislation affecting veterans changed over the years. For the members of the armed forces and their families in the nation's early wars -- the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War -- the response of the federal government had been essentially financial. This was clearly the legislative mission of the Senate Committee on Pensions which was created as one of the Senate's original standing committees in 1816 and continued until its termination in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946.
During World War I the nature of the congressional response to veterans' needs changed towards a more diversified set of programs. A war risk insurance program, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, changed the consideration of veterans benefits in the Senate. The Finance Committee was the Senate standing committee most responsible for veterans programs from 1917 to 1946. After World War II, the Finance Committee handled the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the "GI Bill of Rights," which extended to servicemen and their families, a number of benefits including unemployment assistance, education, vocational training, housing and business loan guarantees, as well as the traditional medical and pension benefits of previous times. Many experts believe this law was one of the most important elements in the expansion of the middle class following World War II.
The Veterans Affairs Committee had nine members in its initial congress, the 92nd Congress (1971-73). It now has a total of 15 members with Chairman Johnny Isakson and Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal in leadership roles during the 114th Congress.
Past Chairmen of the Committee are:
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-California)
Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia)
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania)
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)
In addition, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) was chosen by his colleagues as "Chairman Emeritus" in honor of his long-serving service on the Committee.