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of manual labor. Within the next three years the number of veterans on the pension roll increased from 489,000 to 996,000 and expenditures doubled. Legislation passed in the nineteenth century had established a general pension system that could be applied to future pension recipients. As a consequence, new pension laws did not follow the Spanish-American War in 1898 or the Philippine Insurrection, 1899 to 1901.

(VA, 2006a, p. 5)


The United States’ entry into World War I directed significant attention toward the existing system of benefits for veterans. “Some 4.7 million Americans fought in World War I. Of these, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded” (VA, 2006a, p. 7). Many felt the existing system needed revision, and this new, huge mobilization provided the impetus.

Among the provisions of the War Risk Insurance Act Amendments of 1917 was the authority to establish courses for rehabilitation and vocational training for veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities.

(VA, 2006a, p. 7)

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 authorized the establishment of an independent agency, the Federal Board for Vocational Education. Under the new law, any honorably discharged disabled veteran of World War I was eligible for vocational rehabilitation training. Those incapable of carrying on a gainful occupation were also eligible for special maintenance allowances.

(VA, 2006a, p. 7)

In addition to these provisions, the War Risk Insurance Act of 1917 addressed features of the pension system, or what today is known as “disability compensation.”

There was a change in emphasis from payment of a gratuity towards indemnification, and there was elimination of rank as a factor in determining the amount of compensation…. [T]he new Bureau of War Risk Insurance was instructed to set up a schedule for rating disabilities. The schedule was to represent average impairments in earning capacity caused by specific injuries or combination of injuries. In this way the individual who overcame his handicap was not penalized but encouraged to reenter the labor force, with the knowledge that his payments would not be reduced or terminated.

(VA, 1971, p. 308)


The Great Depression had a staggering economic impact across America. World War I veterans, like others, were seriously affected by this huge economic downturn. After returning from the Great War, many veterans faced destitution. Congress passed the World War Adjustment Compensation Act in 1924 that authorized a bonus to World War I veterans based on the length and location of their service. “The payments were intended to bring about economic balance between the veterans—who generally received low wages in the service—and those who stayed home and benefited from wartime industry” (VA, 2006a, p. 9). However, the certificates for payment, which generally had a face value of $1,500, were in the form of an endowment policy payable 20 years from the date of issue (VA, 2006a, p. 9).

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