Veto of Bill Relating to Spanish-American War Veterans.
To the House of Representatives:
I am returning herewith, without my approval, H.R. 6217, 81st Congress, "An Act To provide greater security for veterans of the Spanish-American War, including the Boxer Rebellion and Philippine Insurrection, in the granting of out-patient treatment by the Veterans' Administration."
The bill would require the Government to provide to all veterans of the Spanish-American War group out-patient treatment on the same basis as is now provided only to those war veterans who have service-connected disabilities. This would be accomplished by enacting into law the presumption that every veteran of the Spanish-American War group who applies to the Veterans' Administration for out-patient treatment shall be deemed to have incurred his disease or disability as a direct result of military or naval service in line of duty.
It has been stated by those supporting the legislation that such a measure is necessary because inadequate medical records have prevented veterans of the Spanish-American War group from establishing that their disabilities are service-connected. The real issue presented by this bill is not adequacy of medical records. Liberal standards have been and are used for determining service connection of disabilities and for determining eligibility for veterans' benefits. The presence or absence of formal medical records does not necessarily control the decision as to eligibility. The plain fact is that these veterans have reached an age where, regardless of their military service, physical disabilities are common and the costs of medical care are, in consequence, higher than at earlier ages. The same is true, of course, of all other citizens who have reached a comparable age. The conclusive presumption of fact to be established by this bill would be largely fictional.
The veterans of the Spanish-American War group have already been very liberally recompensed for their service through pensions for non-service-connected disability and for age. The rates paid to them are higher and the conditions more liberal than for veterans of later wars. Practically all veterans of this group are now eligible on an unqualified basis for pensions of $90 a month. In addition, of course, veterans of the Spanish-American War group are provided hospital and medical care on the same basis as are all other veterans. They are entitled to free hospital care and medical care on an in-patient and out-patient basis, without restriction, for service-incurred or service aggravated disease or injuries. A Spanish-American War veteran also is eligible, as are other veterans, for free non-service-connected hospital and medical care, but only if a Veterans' Administration hospital bed is available and if the veteran states he is unable to pay for the service.
H.R. 6217 would impose a drastic requirement on the Government. It would make it mandatory for the Government to provide free medical care without any qualification to a group of veterans for non-service-connected disabilities declared by statute to be service-connected. This is a step which would be extremely unwise for us to take. It would require us to expand the medical organization in the Veterans' Administration to provide extra services at a time when the country's medical resources are already strained to the point that has made it necessary to ask for legislation to induct medical personnel into the Armed Forces under Selective Service.
This bill would also set a most undesirable precedent for the future. By making a material exception in the case of veterans of the Spanish-American War group in the matter of out-patient treatment, the legislation discriminates against veterans of other wars. I have no doubt that demands would be forthcoming for the passage of similar legislation for other groups in succession. The size and cost of such programs must not be lightly set aside. For example, I am informed that as of June 30, 1950, there were approximately 118,000 living veterans of the Spanish-American War group, and that their average age is over 70 years. While the number of such veterans will decrease steadily, the approximately 26,000 living World War I veterans 70 years of age and over will increase until the year 1970. At that time there will be 1,300,000 World War I veterans in this. age category. Finally, the number of World War II veterans which can be expected to attain this age is four or five times as great as from the World War I group. Thus, by following the precedent of this bill, we would eventually be providing a guarantee of free medical services through the Veterans' Administration for all veterans. When we consider that the cost of out-patient medical care for service-connected disabilities alone already exceeds $100 million annually, the cost implications of an ever widening program are apparent.
As I have stated before, the primary purpose of our veterans' benefit programs should be to provide only for the special and unique needs arising directly from military service. All other new or additional benefits for veterans should be provided through general social security, health, and educational programs available to all the people, including veterans.
In view of the foregoing considerations, I am withholding my approval of H.R. 6217.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Note: On September 19, 1950, the Congress passed the bill over the President's veto. As enacted, H.R. 6217 is Public Law 791, 81st Congress (64 Stat. 867).
Harry S. Truman, Veto of Bill Relating to Spanish-American War Veterans. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230197