Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Mary Thaila Womack Webb.

August 07, 1953

I AM WITHHOLDING my approval from S. 953, "An Act for the relief of Mary Thaila Womack Webb."

This measure, in providing a special exception from the general laws administered by the Veterans' Administration, would render this claimant potentially eligible to receive a pension for the non-service-connected death of a veteran of World War I. It does this by resorting to a legislative directive that she shall "be deemed to be the widow" of the deceased veteran.

Under existing law the establishment of legal widowhood is prerequisite to death benefits administered by the Veterans' Administration. The claimant cannot meet this prescription because a prior marriage of the veteran was never legally dissolved. Both the veteran and the beneficiary had a contrary belief, and they married in good faith. The Congress has accepted the good faith of the claimant in entering into the marriage and the belief that she was the legal wife of the veteran during the eighteen years of their association.

I understand fully the motivation of the action taken by the Congress in this case but I cannot agree that the principles and rules of administration prescribed in the general law should be set aside except in unique and most compelling circumstances of equity. The Federal programs for veterans and their beneficiaries, if they are to be successful, require unswerving uniformity of rule and equality of treatment to all who are similarly situated. If the law is to be changed, it should be changed for all.

We must not, in this benefits field, heed the special plea or the emotional appeal of the hardship case. Legal requirements of fact should not be supplanted by fiat or legislative fiction applying to an individual. To do so would result only in the compounding of inequities, as is apparent from statistics reported by the Veterans' Administration. More than 2,700 claims for death benefits were disallowed by the Veterans' Administration during the last fiscal year for the reason that relationship to the deceased veteran could not be established. I am informed that at least a majority were cases similar to that of the present claimant.

In the light of these facts I could take no other action than to withhold approval of this bill.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of Mary Thaila Womack Webb. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231902

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