Lawmakers renew bid to honor US Cadet Nurses

A WWII poster advertising the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.


By SUE SCHEIBLE | The Patriot Ledger | Published: April 4, 2019

BOSTON (Tribune News Service) — A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers has reintroduced the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act, a bill aimed at honoring the women who served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II with honorary veteran status.

The bill would recognize former cadet nurses' service to the country and provide them with honorable discharges, ribbons and medal privileges, as well as certain burial privileges. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Angus King, I-Maine, and Steve Daines, R-Mont., joined together in renewing their efforts to honor the former nurses, many of whom are now in their 90s.

That includes Elizabeth "Betty" Beecher of Weymouth, who turns 95 on April 15 and lives at Fairing Way in Union Point.

"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."

Other lawmakers joining the bipartisan group are Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Doug Jones, D-Ala., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

The bill will be re-introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., Cindy Axne, D-Iowa. and Greg Balderson, R-Ohio.

Beecher said Wednesday she is hopeful that more Republicans will join the effort to get the bill through.

In the midst of WWII, a severe shortage of trained nurses threatened the nation's ability to meet domestic and military medical needs. In response, Congress established the Cadet Nurse Corps, an integrated, uniformed service of the Public Health Administration, in 1943. 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.

Nearly 120,000 women completed the Corps' rigorous training. Cadet nurses served in military hospitals, Veterans Affairs hospitals, Marine hospitals, private hospitals, public health agencies, and public hospitals. The program ended in 1948.

Warren, who recently met Beecher when the senator spoke in Plymouth, noted her role in a press release issued Wednesday.

"Cadet Nurse Elizabeth "Betty" Beecher was one of those 120,000 women," Warren said. "She trained to become a Cadet Nurse in Boston, and then served as a nurse at a Staten Island, N.Y., marine hospital near the end of WWII."

Beecher has said that she is proud of her role in preventing "a total collapse of the health care system. 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 U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Service Recognition Act would provide cadet nurses with an honorable discharge and limited burial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would also permit the secretary of defense to provide honorably discharged cadet nurses with a service medal.

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

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. Warren first introduced the bill in December 2018 with Collins, King and Daines.

"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. "We are proud to support this bill to acknowledge and recognize these women for their selfless service to their country."

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