The long slow fight of Anita Bloom
Recently, when looking through old PN magazines, which I find myself doing way too often, I came across a pull out box on the first page of the August 1954 issue.
That box was titled Legislative Report and listed bills in Congress that either directly affected veterans or were of interest to them. It had two sections, Passed by Both Houses and Bills Made Law by President’s Signature.
The Bills Made Law By President’s Signature section had a noteworthy listing. It contained HR 7786, which changed the name of the legal holiday known as Armistice Day (Nov. 11) to Veterans Day.
But then, as I glanced through the Passed by Both Houses list, one that really caught my eye was HR 8041. The bill read:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that any person who served for at least 90 days in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps who prior to the establishment of the Women’s Army Corps was honorably discharged for disability incurred in line of duty rendering her physically unfit to perform further service in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps or in the Women’s Army Corps, established under Public Law 110, Seventy-eighth Congress, shall be deemed to have been in the active military service during such period of service for the purposes of laws administered by the Veterans’ Administration (VA).”
Now, you’re wondering, OK, what’s this have to do with Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)? In January 1943, Anita Bloom joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and during her service, she incurred an injury that ultimately left her paralyzed. Bloom eventually found herself at the Bronx VA (Department of Veterans
Affairs Hospital) in New York, where she was the only female with spinal-cord dysfunction. The newly formed Paralyzed Veterans Association at the hospital happily amended its bylaws to allow for the membership of its first female.
In 1946, Congress passed the hand-controlled auto bill. The story has it that Bloom, being the only female PVA member, led the parade of wheelchairs to the VA contact office.
She was one of the first to receive her driver’s license and a lot of local publicity, too. She then waited for the government’s approval of her application for a car. The July 1955 PN tells what happened next:
“Then came the LETTER! The envelope had the familiar VA inscription. With a wide grin and an accelerated heartbeat, she ripped it open and unfolded the letter. As she read, the smile faded, the brows knit, darkness and despair spread over her handsome face. Before she could finish, tears threw the words out of focus. But she had read enough, ‘ … there was no record of her service in the U.S. Army and therefore she was not entitled to any veteran benefits!’
“It’s difficult to be a paraplegic and doubly so for a woman, but to be informed that she was not the equal of her male friends, that she was not even entitled to the chair she sat in, the braces she wore and the bed she slept in, was just too overwhelming. ‘And that’s when it all started, back in ’46 — a slow fight and an exhausting one … ’ Anita recalls …”
HR 8041 could have been titled the Anita Bloom bill, as she was the one who spearheaded the drafting and fought for its ultimate passage. By the time that August issue went to print, then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had signed the bill into law, which I’m sure was well-received by not only Bloom, but also by countless other women who were now rightfully recognized as veterans.
At the 2019 national PVA convention in Denver, I introduced the board of directors to Bloom. It must have had an impact. Shortly after that convention, PVA created the Anita Bloom Women Veterans Committee. According to PVA’s national bylaws, it was formed “to strengthen the leadership, amplify the voices and highlight the needs of PVA women members in their pursuit of quality health care, accessibility and benefits.”
To read more about Bloom, her book Beyond Dancing: A Veteran’s Struggle —A Women’s Triumph is available on amazon.com.
And on that, I’ll wish everyone a happy Veterans Day, and thank you for your service