Veterans Benefits during the Revolution
In the Spring of 1775, battles with the British at Lexington and Concord marked the start of the Revolutionary War, and the Second Continental Congress soon convened in preparation for independence. Notably, veterans benefits were as much a topic of conversation for the Founders as the creation of the new government itself. Members of the Continental Congress saw fit to create the first committee on veterans benefits even before the Declaration of Independence. Later that summer, one of the first laws of the new nation was the creation of a veterans benefits system.
NATHANAEL GREENE envisioned a federal Veterans Benefits system
Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene wrote to future War Secretary and President John Adams on multiple occasions urging him to incorporate a veterans benefits system into the new government.
The peculiar situation of American affairs renders it necessary to adopt every measure that will engage people in the service. The danger and hardships that those are subject to who engage in the service, more than those who do not, is obvious to everybody which has the least Acquaintance with service, tis that which makes it so difficult to recruit. The large force that is coming against America will make it necessary to Augment our forces. If I am to form a Judgment of the success of Recruiting from what is past, … to engage people in the service there must be some new motives.
From the Approaching danger recruiting will grow more and more difficult. If the Congress was to fix a certain support upon every Officer and Soldier that got maim’d in the service or upon the families of those that were kild it would have as happy an influence towards engageing people in the service and inspire those engagd with as much courage as any measure that can be fixt upon. I think it is nothing more than common Justice neither. It puts those in and out of Army upon a more equal footing than at present. I have not time to add any thing more. Major Frazier now waiting—for this. The desperate game you have got to play and the uncertainty of War may render every measure that will increase the Force and strength of the American Army worthy consideration. When I have more leisure I will presume so much upon your good nature as to write you upon some other matters. Believe me to be with great respect yours.
Greene, Nathanael. The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 4, Feb–Aug 1776, ed. Robert J. Taylor. (pp. 213–214) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979. “To John Adams from Nathanael Greene, 26 May 1776.” NARA Founders Online, founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-04-02-0092.
1st National Veterans Committee - June 20, 1776
On Thursday, June 20, 1776, the Continental Congress established the first national committee for veterans benefits “to consider what provision ought to be made for such as are wounded or disabled in the land or sea service.”
Resolved, That a committee of five appointed to consider what provision ought to be made for such as are wounded or disabled in the land or sea service, and report a plan for that purpose.”
Library of Congress. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. V. (p. 469) Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1906, bit.ly/cc-v-469.
1st National Veterans Benefits Law - August 26, 1776
After proper debate, on Monday, August 26, 1776, the Continental Congress created the first national pension system for injured and disabled veterans.
“Resolved, That every commissioned officer, non-commissioned officer, and private soldier, who shall lose a limb in any engagement, or be so disabled in the service of the United States of America as to render him incapable afterwards of getting a livelihood, shall receive, during his life, of the continuance of such disability, the one half monthly pay from and after the time that his pay as an officer or soldier ceases…”
“[T]he Continental Congress promised to provide to those disabled in the cause of American Independence.” D’Amico v. West Jr., 209 F.3d 1322, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (citing Lauran v. West, 11 Vet.App. 80, 85 (1998).
Library of Congress. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, Vol. V. (pp. 702-705) Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1906, bit.ly/cc-v-702.
Death Benefits for Widows - August 24, 1780
In August 1780, the Continental Congress extended pensions to surviving spouses of officers (not enlisted soldiers) killed in the line of duty. The pensions, first granted for seven years, were later granted for life for officers and widows.
That the resolution of the 15 day of May, 1778, granting half-pay for seven years to the officers of the army who should continue in the service to the end of the war, be extended to the widows of those officers who have died, or shall hereinafter die in the service; to commence from the time of such officer’s death, and continue for the term of seven years.
Officers Granted 1/2 Pay Pensions for Life - October 21, 1780
Life for soldiers during the Revolution was extremely difficult, especially during the frigid Winter of 1777-1778 when Washington and his men were encamped in miserable conditions at Valley Forge. For many months, the Framers had debated the idea of providing pensions for officers along with the federal veterans disability system. The Congress first settled on a seven-year pension, but in 1780 agreed to 1/2 pay pensions for life for all officers who continued in the fight until the war was over. Notably, in 1783, when the promised pensions still had not been paid, George Washington was barely able to ward off a full blown mutiny by men who had grown disillusioned with the war effort. At Newburgh, Washington rallied his men, and appealed to their sense of patriotism in fulfilling their service obligations.
Use the links on this page to access original documents from the Library of Congress.
1776—June 20 (Continental Congress) First Veterans Committee Established
1776—August 26 (Continental Congress) National Benefits System created for Disabled Veterans
1777—April 22 (Continental Congress) Invalid Corps created for Disabled Veterans to work in Garrison
1778—May 15 (Continental Congress) 7-Year Post-war Pensions for Officers; $80 Enlistment Bonuses for Troops
1778—September 25 (Continental Congress) Disabled Veteran Benefits Extended Retroactively
1780—August 24 (Continental Congress) Disability and Death Benefits Extended to Widows and Orphans
1780—October 21 (Continental Congress) Officers Granted 1/2 Pay Pensions for Life
1782—April 23 (Continental Congress) “Unfit” Disabled Troops Who Request Discharge Entitled to Life Pensions
1785—June 7 (Continental Congress) Recommendation that States Adopt Uniform Systems to Pay Veterans Pensions
1789—September 29 (Ch. 24) (1 Stat. 95) An Act providing for the payment of the Invalid Pensioners of the United States (1st Veterans Benefits Law of the U.S.)
1792—March 23 (Ch. 11) (1 Stat. 243) An Act to provide for the settlement of the Claims of Widows and Orphans barred by the limitations heretofore established, and to regulate the Claims to Invalid Pensions
1816—April 16 (Ch. 55) (3 Stat. 285) An Act making further provision for military services during the late war, and for other purposes.
1816 —April 24 (Ch. 68) (3 Stat. 296) An Act to increase the pensions of invalids in certain cases; for the relief of invalids of the militia; and for the appointment of pension agents in those states where there is no commissioner of loans.
1818—March 18 (Ch. 19) (3 Stat. 410) (National Pension System for Impoverished Veterans) An Act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States, in the Revolutionary War.
1820 —May 1 (Ch. 53) (3 Stat. 569) An Act in addition to an act, entitled “An act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the revolutionary war,” passed the eighteenth day of March, one thousand eight hundred and eighteen.
1823 —March 1 (Ch. 59) (3 Stat. 792) An Act supplementary to the acts to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the revolutionary war.
1828 —May 15 (Ch. 53) (4 Stat. 269) An act for the relief of certain surviving officers and soldiers of the army of the revolution.