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

October 18, 1951

To the Senate of the United States:

I am returning herewith, without my approval, S. 1864, 82d Congress, "An Act 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 payment of not to exceed $1,600 on the purchase price of an automobile or other conveyance for any veteran of World War II, or of service on or after June 27, 1950, and 'prior to a date to be determined by the President or the Congress, who is 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.

Previous laws accorded a similar benefit to 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 vehicle. Although the authority for that program expired on June 30, 1951, nearly all of the eligible World War II veterans with leg disabilities have already qualified for and received a conveyance. The principal effect of the present proposal on World War II veterans would be to grant assistance in obtaining a vehicle to those with service-connected disabilities of the upper extremities and to those with seriously impaired vision. It would also qualify veterans of the emergency period beginning June 27, 1950 for this benefit for the first time.

This proposal is very similar in essential respects to S. 2115, 81st Congress, which was passed by the Congress in the fall of 1949, and on which I withheld my approval for reasons set forth at length in a Memorandum of Disapproval of October 31, 1949.

It is significant that the considerations set forth in that Memorandum of Disapproval were accepted as sound by the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare when it reported favorably on the original version of S. 1864, 82d Congress, on July 25, 1951. At that time the bill would have simply extended the previous World War II program of assistance in obtaining automobiles for veterans with compensable leg disabilities to include those suffering the same types of disabilities in the active service since June 27, 1950. Apparently recognizing the necessity for restricting this benefit to those having a definite need, in addition to compensation and other existing benefits, for assistance to overcome the handicap of decreased mobility, the Committee stated that it had "confined this bill to the same sound standards of rehabilitation which have governed this program since its inception for the benefit of World War II veterans." The Senate accepted and passed the original bill embodying this principle.

However, the bill as finally adopted by both Houses of the Congress is subject to most of the basic objections raised against S. 2115, 81st Congress. While, unlike the previous bill, this one does not include World War I veterans, it does depart materially from the principle upon which the original World War II program was founded, by extending the program to include veterans with disabilities of the upper extremities and blind veterans. As indicated with reference to S. 2115, the factor of materially diminished mobility, which was an underlying basis of the original program of automobiles for disabled World War II veterans with injury or loss of lower limbs, would be largely disregarded in the cases of the relatively large group of veterans with disabilities of the upper extremities who would be brought in by this bill. In addition, this proposal would dispense with the requirement of the original program that the veteran must be able to drive the vehicle, at least in those instances where someone else is available to drive for him. S. 1864 would, with respect to a considerable proportion of the beneficiaries, abandon the principle upon which the original program was based.

The question of policy arising from this legislation should certainly be determined on a more solid basis than the theory that the proposed benefit is a desirable convenience. The proper test is whether it would be a necessary, sound and substantial part of the program of rehabilitation and readjustment which the Government is obligated to provide for veterans seriously disabled in the service.

The broad program which has already been placed into effect is based upon the concept that the best help which can be given the disabled veteran is that which directly assists him to the maximum extent possible in overcoming his service disability. Sound measures to this end include medical and hospital care, prosthetic appliances, vocational rehabilitation training, 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 to aid them in overcoming their physical handicap. Special increased rates of compensation are granted to those with specific disabilities such as the loss of one or both hands or feet, or blindness. Veterans who would benefit by S. 1864 receive monthly compensation payments ranging from $102 to $360, with extra amounts in most cases for those with dependents. To these benefits the bill would add a payment on one automobile, which would necessarily afford but a temporary type of assistance.

It is difficult to perceive how this bill would fit into the existing benefit structure, for the reason that in a great many instances the benefit provided would not be geared to a peculiar and urgent need for rehabilitative assistance of this nature and would not be in keeping with the underlying objective of assisting these disabled veterans to be as nearly as possible self-reliant and self-sustaining members of society.

As I pointed out in the statement on the 81st Congress bill any proposal to make gifts of specific non-monetary benefits to a selected group of disabled veterans easily leads to serious inequalities. The previous World War II automobile program sought to avoid these inequalities by restricting the benefit to those with leg injuries constituting a material handicap to their mobility. The present bill would include more than 9,400 World War II veterans and an unknown but substantial number of veterans of the present emergency, with disability of the upper extremities. About 9,200 of these World War II veterans would have loss, or loss of use, of only one hand or arm. Many of these would have a disability rating of only 60 or 70 percent, with only slight impairment of mobility, if any, while at the same time a much greater number of veterans rated as 100 percent disabled, but without the specific disability covered by this proposal, will not receive automobiles. It would be easy to find wholesale discriminations as the result of enactment of this legislation. For example, of the estimated 11,700 World War II veterans who would become eligible for assistance in obtaining automobiles under this legislation, approximately 41 percent or 4,800 would be cases rated for compensation purposes as disabled 70 percent or less, while only some 3,000 would be rated as 100 percent disabled. At the same time, at least 70,000 World War II veterans receiving compensation for 100 percent disability from the Veterans' Administration will have been unable to qualify for automobiles under either this or the prior law.

What was stated by way of conclusion in the Memorandum of Disapproval on S. 2115, 81st Congress, is just as applicable in testing the merits of this legislation.

"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."

Although I am impelled for the foregoing reasons to withhold my approval from S. 1864, I would be glad to approve legislation which would limit eligibility to veterans of World War II and to each person who, after June 27, 1950 and until termination of the present emergency, has served in the military forces of the United States, and who is entitled to compensation for the loss, or loss of use of, one or both legs at or above the ankle.

HARRY S. TRUMAN

Note: On October 20 the Congress passed the bill over the President's veto. As enacted, S. 1864 is Public Law 187, 82d Congress (65 Stat. 574).

For the President's Memorandum of Disapproval of bill to authorize payments for the purchase of automobiles by certain disabled veterans, dated October 31, 1949, see 1949 volume, this series, Item 247.

Harry S. Truman, Veto 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/231066

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