To the House of Representatives:
I return without approval House bill No. 149, entitled "An act granting a pension to Rachael Barnes."
The husband of this beneficiary served in the Regular Army of the United States from February 24, 1838, to February 24, 1841.
In 1880 he applied for a pension, alleging that he contracted disease of the eyes during the year 1840 while serving in Florida.
Pending the examination of his application, and on the 24th day of March, 1882, he committed suicide by hanging. His widow filed a claim for pension, alleging that he died of insanity, the result of disease of the head and eyes. Her claim was rejected on the ground that his insanity, forty-one years after discharge from the service, had no connection with his military service.
In July, 1886, a special act was passed granting a pension to the widow, which met with Executive disapproval.
At the time the soldier committed suicide he was 68 years old. Upon the facts I hardly think insanity is claimed. At least there does not appear to be the least evidence of it, unless it be the suicide itself. It is claimed, however, and with good reason, that he had become despondent on account of the delay in determining his application for a pension and because he supposed that important evidence to establish his claim which he expected would not be forthcoming. It is very likely that this despondency existed and that it so affected the mind of this old soldier that it led to his suicide. But the fact remains that he took his own life in a deliberate manner, and that the affection of his eyes, which was the disability claimed, was not in a proper sense even the remote cause of his death.
I confess that I have endeavored to relieve myself from again interposing objections to the granting of a pension to this poor and aged widow. But I can not forget that age and poverty do not themselves justify gifts of public money, and it seems to me that the according of pensions is a serious business which ought to be regulated by principle and reason, though these may well be tempered with much liberality.
I can find no principle or plausible pretext in this case which would not lead to granting a pension in any case of alleged disability arising from military service followed by suicide. It would be an unfair discrimination against many who, though in sad plight, have been refused relief in similar circumstances, and would establish an exceedingly troublesome and dangerous precedent.
Grover Cleveland, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/205115