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Special Message to the Congress Proposing Veterans Legislation

January 28, 1974

To the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, January 27, 1974, marked the first anniversary of the date on which the United States troops ended hostile action against the enemy in Vietnam and began the long-sought disengagement from the longest war in our Nation's history.

It is particularly fitting that today, a year later, we should focus our attention on what has been done--and what remains to be done--to repay the debt America owes to those who served.

There are twenty-nine million living American veterans today--men and women who have given military service to their country. Nearly 7 million of them are Vietnam-era veterans. We owe these men and women our best effort in providing them with the benefits that their service has earned them. Accordingly I will request $13.6 billion in spending for veterans' benefits and services in my new budget, an increase of $5.9 billion over the comparable 1969 request.


On the whole, the situation of the American veteran today is a good one. The average veteran has a higher income, more education, and better health than non-veterans of the same age. He or she is a vital, productive member of the civilian community--a national asset in peace as well as in war.

The years since 1969 have marked important progress for the American veteran. Between 1969 and 1975, outlays for veteran pension programs will have increased from $2.2 billion to $2.9 billion, covering 2.4 million beneficiaries, while compensation for service-connected disabilities or death will have increased from $2.7 billion to $3.9 billion. The benefits we pay to our veterans should continue to reflect the generous appreciation of the American people.

Since 1969, 4.1 million veterans have financed their educations under the GI bill. Of those, 2.7 million are Vietnamera veterans. The rate at which Vietnamera veterans have participated in the GI bill training exceeds that of any previous GI bill. At the same time, the number of veterans assisted through guaranteed mortgage loans has increased by 46 percent.

In the last year alone, it was my pleasure to sign into law two major measures benefitting veterans and their dependents. The final form of both pieces of legislation was the result of close cooperation between the legislative and executive branches, and I wish to take this opportunity to repeat my thanks to the Congressional leaders and committee members who helped us arrive at the desired results.

The Veterans Health Care Expansion Act of 1973 was a landmark measure. It provides major improvements in and expansion of medical and nursing care for veterans and extends treatment benefits to certain dependents of veterans.

The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 consolidated the bulk of veterans cemeteries and set up a National Cemetery System within the Veterans Administration and improved related benefits and services. Based on a study authorized by the act, I intend to submit further proposals for improving the cemetery system.

Improved veteran health care has also taken the form of greater flexibility in treatment and more numerous treatment facilities as evidenced by:

--16 new outpatient clinics and 663 new specialized medical services;

--Strengthened affiliation of 106 VA hospitals with 89 medical schools; and

--Consolidation of medical regions and the strengthening of regional management to provide faster responses to problems at individual hospitals.

A vigorous program of modernization and construction has also played an important part in improving veterans health care. Ten new or replacement hospitals have already been established and five more replacement hospitals are being designed or are under construction. In the period 1970-75 the ratio of staff to patients in VA hospitals will have been increased by over 30 percent. We have added over 25,000 full time personnel to the medical departments of the veterans hospitals since 1969, and my budget proposals for fiscal year 1975 will provide for an additional 7,600 medical personnel.

Veterans Administration hospital construction funding in fiscal 1975 will reach an all-time high of $276 million and, when these funds are brought to bear, the VA will be in the midst of its greatest program of hospital construction in history.

As I look forward to proposing my National Health insurance plan--to make more and better health care available to all Americans--it will be more than ever important to take the VA's health care system into consideration. It is my strong view that it should continue as a system, under VA, to insure the proper care of eligible veterans. The Veterans Administration now operates the largest civilian medical care system in the world. It is only fitting that it remain one of the best.



Two important Administration initiatives in veterans affairs should receive the attention of the Congress in its coming session.


In the field of pensions, Administration proposals will benefit one million veterans and 1.3 million survivors of veterans in economic need due to age, disability or loss of a breadwinner. Although VA pensions have been increased by 27 percent since 1969, some of the most needy are least provided for under the current structure. Many needy veterans and their wives receive less money from the pension system than they would from welfare and no automatic adjustment is provided for increases in the cost of living. There are other inequities as well.

As I mentioned in my message to the Congress on national legislative goals on September 10 1973, refinement of the Veterans Administration pension program is necessary. The program has so many problems that it cannot be corrected unless the entire framework of the program is restructured.

I regard the following principles as vital to a realistic and equitable VA pension program, and I will propose legislation to achieve these goals:

--VA pensioners should have some regularized way of receiving cost-of-living adjustments in VA pension payments tied to the automatic increases now available to social security recipients.

--The VA pension program should be structured to assure that additional income flows to the neediest pensioners. This objective would involve raising VA payments to those pensioners who receive less total income than adult welfare recipients under recent amendments to the Social Security Act. In addition, a family's total income should be considered in determining the amount of pension needed.

--Veterans and widows should be treated equally with regard to income and pension payments.


The cost of living is also a problem for those veterans now taking advantage of the GI bill to further their training or education. They need additional help if their allowances are to keep pace with inflation. There are 2.1 million current beneficiaries of the GI bill, most of them Vietnam-era veterans. Payments to each trainee have increased sharply--by 1975 they will be more than double the level of 1969. To help meet the rising cost of living, my budget will request an additional $200 million to provide an 8 percent increase in education benefits in 1975.



No group of veterans is more in the minds and hearts of Americans today than those who have recently returned from Vietnam and our Nation's longest war. Beyond the readjustment problems faced by veterans of past wars, this Administration has recognized that the Vietnamera veteran faces special challenges in re-entering a highly complex and competitive civilian society. We have done our best to help him meet those challenges.

Of particular importance have been our efforts in the field of employment. In 1970, for example, more than a million veterans left the Armed Services and entered the civilian economy. By October of that year, the unemployment rate for Vietnam-era veterans had grown very serious. This led to the launching of the Administration's job placement efforts which have so far helped 2.2 million returning veterans to find jobs. The unemployment rate for Vietnam-era veterans, which once far exceeded that of the general public, was reduced from a high of 11 percent in early 1971 to 4.4 percent by the end of 1973. Both Government and the private sector--through Jobs for Veterans and the National Alliance of Businessmen--played a part in this remarkable success story. We intend to continue these efforts. In fiscal year 1974 our goal is to place 1.2 million additional veterans in jobs or training programs.



The tangible benefits extended to our veterans such as medical assistance, education grants and pensions are only one of the ways that America should repay her debts to the men and women who have served her well. We should also accord them a high degree of respect and appreciation in our everyday contacts with them. And we should set aside certain days each year to commemorate their heroic deeds.

In 1974, there should be at least two occasions on which we pay special honor to those who have served in the Vietnam conflict.

One such commemoration was held yesterday, January 27, the first anniversary of the Vietnam cease-fire. I officially proclaimed that day as National VIA Awareness Day. There are still 1,300 Americans missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, and there are more than 1,100 American casualties whose bodies have never been recovered. Their experiences, as well as those of their relatives and loved ones, have been a wrenching sacrifice that deserves special recognition. That is why we set aside a special day dedicated to these Americans and to their families.

In honoring the missing and fallen in the Vietnam conflict, we should also remember the countless others who served and survived that war. Last month I was pleased to sign into law a joint resolution of the Congress authorizing me to proclaim March 29th of this year as "Vietnam Veterans Day". It is appropriate that we choose that date--the first anniversary of the return of all of our POWs-as an occasion to honor all of the veterans of the Vietnam era.

We will honor those Vietnam veterans once again later in the year on Veterans Day itself, an observance which gives us the opportunity to pay tribute not only to the seven million who served during the Vietnam era but also to the 22 million other men and women who have proudly worn the American uniform in years before.

For most Americans, Veterans Day is traditionally associated with November 11th of each year. That was the day more than half a century ago when an historic and dramatic cease fire was achieved in the First World War.

Legislation approved in 1968, however, changed the traditional observance of Veterans Day from November i i to the fourth Monday of each October. That change, while well intended, has stirred up considerable confusion and not a small amount of resentment. In many places-including the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery--there are now dual observances of Veterans Day, while in others, observances are held not in October but on November I i.

Thirty-one State legislatures have now enacted resolutions declaring that within their jurisdictions November 11th will be officially observed as "Veterans Day". In addition, all of the major veterans organizations have indicated their strong support for returning to the November 11th observance.

In view of the confusion which has arisen and in view especially of the position taken by the veterans themselves, I believe it would be wise to repeal the 1968 change in the Veterans Day observance. I therefore urge the 93rd Congress, as part of its effort to honor our veterans, to enact legislation restoring November 11th as the official date for the entire Nation to commemorate Veterans Day.

As we celebrate Veterans Day this year, let us do so with the hope that the 29 million Americans who have served in our armed forces represent our last generation of veterans and the last of America's wars. May we never forget that we will only be worthy of the blessings of peace and freedom they have won for us for as long as we continue to honor them, and may we do everything we can to repay our boundless debt to them.


The White House,

January 28, 1974.

Note: On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the message by Administrator of Veterans Affairs Donald E. Johnson.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress Proposing Veterans Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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