WWII Cadet Nurses Could Become Honorary Veterans

World War II-era recruitment posters for the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. (United States Government Printing Office via UNT Digital Library)
World War II-era recruitment posters for the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. (United States Government Printing Office via UNT Digital Library)

At one point, they were 180,000 strong -- women who joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps in World War II to staff U.S. hospitals during the war years and care for the wounded when they came home.

Exactly how many are left is not known, but Thomas Saadi, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, told the New London Day that the living and the deceased deserve long-overdue recognition.

"It's an issue that's below the radar for many, but, for those who are affected, it would have an incredible impact," Saadi said of proposed legislation now making its way through Congress that would give these nurses veteran status, albeit honorary.

The designation could come this year. An amendment to the House fiscal 2020 defense policy bill offered by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, was approved earlier this month by voice vote and included in the bill.

Related: Lawmakers Renew Bid to Honor US Cadet Nurses

A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts. A bipartisan group of 22 senators has signed on to support Warren's legislation.

"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.

The measures would give the women honorable discharges and honorarily bestow the title of "veteran," a designation that would make them eligible for a service medal from the Defense Department and burial benefits from the VA.

They would not be eligible for disability benefits, health care or other veterans' benefits.

From July 1, 1943, to Dec. 31, 1948, more than 120,000 women completed the training and served in the Corps. They were assigned to military hospitals, VA facilities, public and private hospitals, and public health agencies.

Cadet Nurse Betty Beecher trained in Boston, Massachusetts, and then served on Staten Island, New York, in a Marine hospital.

"We prevented the total collapse of the health care system," she said in a news release. "Had we not stepped up and volunteered and enlisted, I'm afraid the country would have been demoralized and our boys would have come home to a sick country."

To become law, the measure must make it through the reconciliation process between the House and Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act legislation, expected to begin soon.

Those interested in learning more about these young women and their role during World War II can find their testimonies at uscadetnurse.org.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

Story Continues