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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Authorize Payments for the Purchase of Automobiles by Certain Disabled Veterans.

October 31, 1949

I HAVE withheld my approval of S. 2115, "To authorize payments by the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs on the purchase of automobiles or other conveyances by certain disabled veterans, and for other purposes."

The purpose of the enactment is to authorize the payment of not to exceed $1,600 on the purchase price of an automobile or other conveyance for any veteran of World War I or World War II entitled to compensation under laws administered by the Veterans' Administration for the loss, or loss of use, of one or both hands or feet or for defective vision to a prescribed degree.

The First Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1947, granted a similar benefit for each World War II veteran entitled to compensation for loss, or loss of use, of one or both legs, at or above the ankle, with the requirement that the veteran be qualified to operate the conveyance. This authority was extended and most of the eligible World War II veterans with leg disabilities have already qualified for a conveyance under that law. Hence, the primary effect of the present proposal on World War II veterans would be to grant a vehicle to those with service-connected disabilities of the upper extremities and to those with seriously impaired vision. It would also qualify World War I veterans for this benefit for the first time.

Any provision that will assist those veterans who have suffered the most severe disabilities as a result of their service naturally commands, and should command, our most sympathetic consideration. However, we should not lose sight of the basic purpose in fulfilling our primary obligation to veterans disabled in the service, which is not only to give them timely help to surmount the physical and economic handicaps of their disability, but at the same time to preserve and stress the underlying objective of assisting them to be as nearly as possible self-reliant and self-sustained members of society.

A comprehensive program has already been adopted by the Government which is based squarely upon the policy of directly assisting the disabled veteran to the maximum extent possible in overcoming his service disability. This consists of medical and hospital care, prosthetic appliances, vocational rehabilitation training, waiver of insurance premiums during continuous total disability, and liberal rates of monthly compensation, including additional amounts for dependents in severe cases. Blind veterans may be provided with guide dogs and electrical or mechanical equipment designed specifically to aid them in overcoming their physical handicaps. Moreover, special increased rates of compensation are provided for those with certain specific disabilities, such as loss of one or both hands or feet or blindness. At the present time, the veterans who would be benefited by S. 2115 receive monthly compensation payments ranging from $97 to $360, with, in most instances, extra amounts depending on the number of their dependents. This is, of course, in addition to the medical and other services which they receive. Within the last month I have approved legislation, effective December 1, 1949, to provide a minimum 8.7 per cent increase in basic compensation rates for disabled veterans. This increase will benefit those veterans receiving compensation on the basis of the degree of their disability, which includes the great majority of those who would be benefited by the present proposal.

This proposal would now add to the presently available, sound rehabilitative measures the one-time gift of an automobile or other conveyance based on the fact that the veteran had lost one or both hands or his vision in the service. The original program of automobiles for disabled veterans was intended to provide timely rehabilitative assistance to help those veterans readjust to civilian life. It was limited to veterans of World War II entitled to compensation for the loss, or loss of use, of one or both legs at or above the ankle, who were personally able to operate automobiles. The cars were intended to serve the purpose of additional prosthetic appliances for the direct use of veterans whose mobility had been impaired by injury or loss of lower limbs. Under S. 2115, the factor of mobility would be largely disregarded. Certainly, the gift of an automobile to a blind veteran who has no one to drive it for him is, in no sense, a prosthetic appliance. Nor is an automobile necessary for the rehabilitation of each and every veteran who has lost one or both hands. S. 2115 would abandon the principle upon which the original program was based. It we abandon sound principles of rehabilitation, it is not clear how or where we can stop this progressive expansion of the granting of automobiles short of providing one for every disabled veteran.

The practice of making gifts of special non-monetary benefits, such as automobiles, to a particular group of disabled veterans, leads both to serious inequity and to abuse. Under S. 2115, for example, a veteran who has suffered the loss of a hand and who may be rated as 60 per cent or 70 per cent disabled would receive an automobile, though his mobility may be impaired only slightly, if at all. At the same time, a much larger number of veterans rated as high as 100 per cent disabled, but without the specific disabilities covered by this proposal, will not receive automobiles. These instances of discrimination would not be isolated cases. This bill would create wholesale inequities. Of the estimated 9780 additional World War II veterans who could become eligible for free automobiles under this bill, the best available data indicate that 40 per cent or 3900 would be cases rated as disabled 70 per cent or less. Only about 2700 of those to receive this benefit would be rated as 100 per cent disabled. On the other hand, there would be over 65,000 World War II veterans on the rolls of the Veterans' Administration receiving compensation for 100 per cent disability who would be completely excluded. The situation with respect to World War I veterans would also be similar. This bill would qualify an estimated 5700 veterans of various degrees of disability but would exclude over 25,000 World War I veterans who are rated 100 per cent disabled. It seems obvious that inequities are bound to arise when specific gifts are made without references to a distinctive need which is both substantial and urgent to those concerned. The step-by-step distribution of such gifts to wider and wider groups of veterans would destroy the delicately balanced disability compensation structure which has been worked out through the years.

In addition to the inequities mentioned, this measure would lead to abuses. Many of the veterans eligible under this proposal are unable to drive an automobile, and some of these may have no one to drive for them. Yet, such veterans may have a legitimate need for some other aids or conveniences suitable to their own individual cases. Their only recourse will be to apply for and receive the automobiles and immediately sell them. It is surely unsound public policy to give a special group of veterans special gifts so poorly fitted to their requirements that many will be forced to sell them in order to use the proceeds for purposes better suited to their needs.

When we move beyond the provision of individually fitted prosthetic appliances for disabled veterans into the field of compensation, the sound and equitable method of meeting the needs of disabled veterans is through the provision of a carefully considered scale of compensation rates paid in cash on a monthly basis. This is our long-tested practice from which I believe we should not depart.

Accordingly, I am compelled to withhold approval of S. 2115.

HARRY S. TRUMAN

Harry S. Truman, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill To Authorize Payments for the Purchase of Automobiles by Certain Disabled Veterans. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230299

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