Veteran’s Benefits

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Nearly 2.2 million veterans are receiving monthly compensation for service disabilities. Amounts start at $32 for a minor disability and reach a maximum of $584 for total disability. For certain specific severe disabilities—determined on a case-by-case basis—compensation may reach $1,454 per month.

Eligibility for pensions is dependent upon income and other criteria, principally any disability (service-connected or not) that prevents the veteran from working. Age 65 is considered a permanent and total disability. Annual income levels are set at $3,000 or less for single persons and $4,200 or less for veterans with dependents. Pensions range from a high of $182 monthly to $5.

As of 1974, the last full year for which figures are available, compensation and pension programs cost $6.6 billion annually.

Medical and dental care constitute the second major service of the VA . They are available on a priority basis, first to service-disabled veterans, then to pensioners, veterans over 65, and indigent veterans. They account for roughly 20 per cent of the agency’s budget. In 1974 this translated to nearly $3 billion, up from $1.9 billion in 1971.

The VA runs the largest hospital system in the nation—currently 171 hospitals, 213 clinics, and 84 nursing homes in 176 towns and cities. The hospitals account for 96,960 beds, or about 6 per cent of all hospital beds in the country. In 1974 hospital admissions totaled 992,000, about 150,000 of which were for psychiatric treatment. In the same year outpatient cases numbered 12.2 million.

In addition, some 12,000 to 13,000 veterans are cared for annually in VA domiciliaries (soldiers’ homes). And the disabled who were injured or lost a limb in the service may qualify for a special annual clothing allowance or an automobile allowance of up to $3,300. Blind veterans may be entitled to a guide dog.

The GI Bill for Education, first established in 1944, may be the most socially significant piece of all recent veterans’ legislation. At a cost of $30.8 billion through 1974, nearly 13 million veterans from all recent wars have been afforded an opportunity to complete their education from the secondary level through graduate school.

The original GI Bill assisted 7.8 million veterans of World War II, many of whom would have been denied a college degree without such support. Because of its demonstrated success, the measure was extended first to Korean veterans and then to veterans of Vietnam.

The VA ’S Vocational Rehabilitation Program provides job training for persons with service-connected disabilities. Some 618,000 World War II veterans were assisted under this program. The current enrollment is 15,000. The total cost through 1974 was $2.8 billion.

Insurance and guaranteed loans—like the GI Bill—have been most useful to the majority of veterans. As of 1974 the VA managed some 4.8 million insurance policies with a total value of $33 billion in coverage.

Since 1945 the VA has supervised more than 8.9 million loans for home purchase, for farms, and for businesses. Total value: $110.5 billion. Almost 95 per cent of all loans have been for GI mortgages.

Beginning with the Selective Service Act of 1940, the VA has also directed certain legal services that protect the re-employment rights of veterans. No such protection existed in earlier wars, and the resulting unemployment of returning veterans, notably in 1919-20, was considered a national disgrace. In addition, the VA cooperates with the states in administering special unemployment compensation available to veterans on a state-by-state basis.

Among other lesser-known benefits, veterans of wartime service may be eligible for burial in one of 103 national cemeteries. Or they may receive $250 for burial expenses and an additional $150 for the purchase of a cemetery plot. Headstones and memorial markers are available from the VA .

By any measure this is an impressive list. Equally impressive is our apparent willingness to accept both the comprehensive range and the steadily rising costs these programs entail, for veterans’ benefits are only rarely challenged in Congress and only rarely cut. Indeed, a remarkable feature of the veterans’ benefits system is the absence of sustained, informed criticism. As costs mount it would seem that some re-examination of both programs and principles is called for. Mr. Ford has already proposed a $2 billion cut in veterans spending for fiscal year 1977. Whether the proposal will survive in Congress during an election year remains to be seen.