Should cadet nurses be recognized as veterans? The debate continues

As federal politicians debate whether cadet nurses should be recognized as veterans, state legislators last month passed two proposals showing their support for the idea.

About 124,000 women joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps and became licensed to address the nursing shortage during World War II. The five-year program offered a federally funded education to would-be nurses who promised to serve for the duration of the war.

Elsie Szecsy, president and CEO of uscadetnurse.org, said many of the women, now in their 90s, stayed in nursing and were pioneers in new fields, including “outpatient surgery, emergency nursing, geriatric nursing and many other areas that today we take for granted as having always been there."

Yet cadet nurses are not considered veterans, meaning they don’t qualify for burial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs or service medals from the Secretary of Defense.

Two pending federal proposals would change that. One is a bill that seeks honorary veteran’s status for honorably discharged cadet nurses. The other would amend the National Defense Authorization Act to provide the same thing.

Szecsy said the latter is “more encouraging” because amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act must be voted upon “promptly." Bills, on the other hand, can "languish for a while."

"It is my personal hope that enduring, formal recognition at the federal level is realized as soon as possible," said Szecsy, a retired Arizona State University education research professional.

For its part, Connecticut last month passed a resolution urging Congress to recognize cadet nurses as veterans, as well as a bill establishing June 15 as “Cadet Nurse Corps Day.”

Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the latter, making June 15, 2020, the first official "Cadet Nurse Corps Day."

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, has been fighting for federal recognition for cadet nurses since 2017 and had a hand in both proposals passed this session.

Osten, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Army, said even former President Harry Truman said cadet nurses should be compensated as other military veterans are.

She said she believes Congress hasn’t designated cadet nurses as veterans because of the financial implications of such a move. She acknowledged how much U.S. legislators have on their plates but said she hopes this is the year they formally recognize cadet nurses.

“I think it would be disrespectful to recognize them after all of them have passed on in order to save a few dollars,” Osten said.

Local politicians have taken up the issue in part because area women including Kathleen Kingsley, 92, of Norwich, and Elizabeth Yeznach, 93, of Gales Ferry, were cadet nurses.

Osten said most Connecticut legislators — on both sides of the aisle — supported the two cadet nurse proposals.

“If nobody else will recognize these women and what they have done, we will,” she said.

l.boyle@theday.com

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