Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Section III: Programs for Special Groups

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

Section III: Programs for Special Groups

Article excerpt

Veterans of the Armed Forces during military conflicts, many public employees, and railroad workers are eligible for special benefits not available to other persons.

The tradition of veterans' benefits stretches back to the days of the colonies. In the 17th century, some colonies provided benefits for disabled veterans, and the Continental Congress provided disability pensions for veterans of the Revolutionary War. The first Congress of the United States passed a veterans' pension program in 1789. At first, these veterans' benefits consisted mainly of compensation for the war disabled, widows' pensions, and land grants. Later, emphasis was placed on service pensions and domiciliary care. Following World War I, provisions were made for a full scale system of hospital and medical care benefits.

Retirement programs for certain groups of government employees--mainly teachers, police officers, and firefighters--date back to the 19th century. The teachers' pension plan of New Jersey, which was established in 1896, is probably the oldest Statewide contributory retirement plan for government employees. By the early 1900's, a number of local governments had set up retirement plans for police officers and firefighters, followed by plans for general municipal employees. New York State and New York City set up retirement systems for their employees in 1920--the same year that the Civil Service Retirement System was initiated for Federal employees.

Before the Federal old-age insurance system was enacted for commercial and industrial workers, attempts were made to establish a uniform, industry wide pension system for railroad workers. The vast majority of railroad employees had been covered under the railroads' private pension plans, some of which dated back to the 19th century. During the depression of the 1930's, these plans were financially weakened and Federal action was sought. Congress responded with the Railroad Retirement Act of 1934, which was subsequently declared unconstitutional. The tax provisions of a second law, in 1935, also were declared invalid by a lower court. Finally amendments in 1937 provided a compromise acceptable to both employers and employees in the railroad industry. The major item of agreement was that the Federal system should assume the payment of pensions to those on the private benefit rolls of the railroads.


A variety of programs and benefits are available to servicepersons and veterans of military service. Included in these programs are disability payments, educational assistance, hospitalization and medical care, vocational rehabilitation, survivors' and dependents' benefits, special loan programs, and hiring preference for certain jobs. Most of the veterans' programs are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During fiscal year 1992, total benefits to veterans and their dependents, exclusive of career retirement and Social Security benefits, reached $30.8 billion. This amount included $16.3 billion for disabled veterans, their dependents, and survivors; $13.7 billion for medical programs; and $752 million for educational programs. As of February 1, 1993, 2,664,300 veterans were receiving disability benefits and 676,000 widows and widowers were recieving survivors' benefits.


Benefit programs for military veterans had their origins in the earliest days of the Nation's history. As early as the 17th century, some of the Colonies had enacted laws to provide care for disabled veterans, and the Continental Congress provided disability pensions for veterans of the Revolutionary War.

In 1789, the first Congress of the United States enacted a pension program for veterans that was actually administrated by the Congress. As the number of military pensioners grew, administrative responsibility for the pension program was shifted from Congress to a succession of agencies.

The initial scope of the veterans' program consisted of pensions to disabled veterans and to the windows and dependents of those who died on active duty. …

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