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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of the Estate of Carlos M. Cochran.

August 31, 1954

I HAVE WITHHELD my approval from S. 820, "For the relief of the estate of Carlos M. Cochran".

This enrolled enactment would pay the sum of $5,000 to the estate of Carlos M. Cochran, who was killed in line of duty when he was a member of the Armed Forces in 1942.

The soldier decedent was discovered lying beside a highway just outside the entrance to the military installation where he was stationed. Although he appears to have been temporarily of unsound mind at the time, the sentry at the gate to the installation who discovered him and took him into custody was not aware of this fact. While the sentry was telephoning for military policemen to come to the gatehouse for the decedent, he attempted to escape. He failed to obey the sentry's three shouted commands to halt. The sentry then aimed his shotgun at the decedent's legs and fired. Just at this moment the decedent jumped into a ditch. As a result, he was struck in the chest rather than the legs, and was instantly killed.

A board of officers, which subsequently considered the case, determined that the sentry's actions had been reasonable under all of the circumstances. The board also determined that since the decedent was known to have been in a state of mental confusion at the time of the shooting, his death should be considered to be in line of duty.

The records of Army show that the regular death gratuity was paid in this case and that at the time of the decedent's entry into the military service. he was offered but specifically refused national service life insurance.

The decedent's closest survivor seems to be a sister who presumably would be the ultimate beneficiary of the bill. She is not entitled to survivorship benefits under laws administered by the Veterans' Administration since sisters are not included within the categories of survivors eligible to receive benefits under such laws.

Laws administered by the Veterans' Administration and other Federal agencies provide systems of benefits for certain dependent survivors of members of the Armed Forces killed in line of duty. Benefits so authorized are generous and are payable to the specified survivors regardless of whether death results from the negligence or wilful misconduct of fellow servicemen or any other person. Under the circumstances, I think it only fair and reasonable to consider the generous, uniform, and assured protection which these systems afford as the exclusive remedy against the United States on account of the death of a member of the Armed Forces killed in line of duty. Any other view would be productive of anomalies and serious inequities.

The foregoing view accords with that taken by the Supreme Court in denying relief in a negligence case brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act in which, as here, a member of the Armed Forces was killed not only in line of duty but incident to his actual military service. Such a view is in no sense novel. Military and veterans' survivorship benefits are the equivalent of civilian workmen's compensation benefits. The Federal government and most of the States have abolished actions for damages between employers and employees and superseded them with workmen's compensation statutes which provide the sole basis of liability in most cases.

Additionally, as already noted, the decedent had the opportunity to apply for a policy of national service life insurance in the maximum amount of $10,000. He was specifically offered this opportunity but refused to take advantage of it, as is indicated by his service record.

Accordingly, while regretting the tragic death of the decedent, I am constrained to withhold my approval from S. 820.


Note: This memorandum was released at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colo.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill for the Relief of the Estate of Carlos M. Cochran. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231748

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