Publication Date

April 2015


Ronald Schatz


College of Social Studies


English (United States)


The history of veterans’ benefits can be neatly divided into two sections: before and after the GI Bill of 1944. From the Revolution through the bill’s passage, only officers and the disabled were granted federal pensions while the remaining veterans resumed a civilian political status despite the social implications of military service. Though Civil War pension policies played an important role in liberalizing federal spending and growing the administrative bureaucracy of the state, they maintained the bifurcation of the veteran population into the deserving and those who were not. Largely due to the efforts of the American Legion, the GI Bill cut ties with tradition and included all veterans in its groundbreaking benefit program. Further, the Legion’s relentless politicking efforts ensured that all of the GI Bill’s now-famous provisions—education, unemployment payments, job training, home and business loans, health care—were administered through the VA. In achieving these legislative victories, the Legion and its Congressional allies ensured that regardless of disability, veteran identity would lead to special benefits and thus elevated political status. As the American welfare state expanded, the extension of benefits to non-veterans threatened the special, elevated status the GI Bill had attempted to ensure. Still, the VA-only system of veterans’ benefits survives to this day, a testament to the political strength built into veteran identity by the GI Bill.



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