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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Florida International Highlights How African American Soldiers and Veterans Helped Shape a New Health System

Dr. Jessica Adler, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Florida International University’s (FIU) Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, focuses on the history of American health and social welfare policy, and the impact of war on citizens’ health. Her latest research explores the efforts of the African American soldiers and veterans who fought for equality in the new veterans’ health system after World War I.

[Photo: Ward 6 patients at Camp Mills, NY, June 1918.” ]

In its May 2017 issue, the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) published Dr. Adler’s article, “’The Service I Rendered was Just as True:’ African American Soldiers and Veterans as Activist Patients.” The piece is related to her forthcoming book, “Burdens of War: Creating the United States Veterans Health System,” which Johns Hopkins University Press will publish in August.

Building on studies of unequal treatment, she starts the article in January 1919, two months after the Armistice of World War I, when disturbing news broke about the mistreatment of severely wounded patients at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. The activism surrounding the neglect and subsequent investigation serves as one of multiple case studies of how black patients fought to eradicate race-based, health-related injustices.

“Private correspondence, congressional testimony, and reports from Black newspapers reveal that African American soldiers and veterans communicated directly with policymakers and bureaucrats regarding unequal treatment,” according to Dr. Adler. “They assumed roles as ‘policy actors’ who viewed health and medical care as ‘politics by other means.”

As a result, they helped make the case for the necessity of creating a veterans’ health system in the ‘20s, and laid the groundwork for its precedent-setting desegregation in the ‘50s, which was labeled “a shining example to the rest of the country.”

Dr. Adler also serves as an assistant professor in the Department of History at FIU. She’s been with FIU since 2014 and has written articles for the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, USA Today, The Hill, and The Miami Herald, and composed book chapters for edited volumes on military and medical history. The Florida Humanities Council, the FIU Office of the Provost Humanities Research Initiative, the Doris G. Quinn Foundation, the Institute for Political History, and the U.S. Army Military History Institute have all supported her work.