Disability and Human Capital: Wounded Soldiers
Analyzing military 1 pension laws demonstrates three ways that legislation conditions the abilities of physically impaired people to function. Laws disable physically handicapped individuals by prescribing their activities. Less directly, and perhaps more effectively, laws also construct disability by promoting particular expectations among the ablebodied segment of the population. And third, because knowledge of these expectations can shape the personality and behavior of handicapped individuals, laws can lead to an ostensibly "self-inflicted" disability.
This chapter demonstrates these three methods by looking at two sets of laws: those of the colonial period and the Revolutionary War era and those of the Great War of the early twentieth century. The selection is in one sense arbitrary, for groups of laws from any period indicate that social functioning of wounded soldiers depends in major part on legislation. In another sense the selection of these laws is purposeful. The early statutes both establish a policy of public responsibility for wounded soldiers and support the argument that the form of that responsibility depends upon the prevailing idea of usefulness. For example, when the young nation's needs were acute, specific legislation allowed, and sometimes compelled, wounded soldiers to continue to help defend their country. When those needs diminished, injured soldiers were seen as useless, and the nation apparently considered its responsibility fulfilled by legislation that mandated their maintenance. Over the years, this "utility model" of treating soldiers has become less apparent. When the Veterans Bureau was established in 1921, the nation aided veterans simply because they were veterans, and no longer based aid on expectations that they would resume economic productivity. As will become clear, this chapter looks at the