Presidential Speeches

May 8, 1886: Veto of Military Pension Legislation

About this speech

Grover Cleveland

May 08, 1886

Source (not specified)

President Cleveland vetoes the first of several bills granting military pensions to Civil War Union veterans who had appealed to Congress after their claims were rejected by the Pensions Bureau. Hundreds of these claims are bogus.

Presidential Speeches |

May 8, 1886: Veto of Military Pension Legislation


To the House of Representatives:
I return without my approval House bill No. 1471, entitled "An act increasing the pension of Andrew J. Hill."
This bill doubles the pension which the person named therein has been receiving for a number of years. It appears from the report of the committee to which the bill was referred that a claim made by him for increased pension has been lately rejected by the Pension Bureau "on the ground that the claimant is now receiving a pension commensurate with the degree of disability found to exist."
The policy of frequently reversing by special enactment the decisions of the Bureau invested by law with the examination of pension claims, fully equipped for such examination, and which ought not to be suspected of any lack of liberality to our veteran soldiers, is exceedingly questionable. It may well be doubted if a committee of Congress has a better opportunity than such an agency to judge of the merits of these claims. If, however, there is any lack of power in the Pension Bureau for a full investigation, it should be supplied; if the system adopted is inadequate to do full justice to claimants, it should be corrected, and if there is a want of sympathy and consideration for the defenders of our Government the Bureau should be reorganized.
The disposition to concede the most generous treatment to the disabled, aged, and needy among our veterans ought not to be restrained; and it must be admitted that in some cases justice and equity can not be done nor the charitable tendencies of the Government in favor of worthy objects of its care indulged under fixed rules. These conditions sometimes justify a resort to special legislation, but I am convinced that the interposition by special enactment in the granting of pensions should be rare and exceptional. In the nature of things if this is lightly done and upon slight occasion, an invitation is offered for the presentation of claims to Congress which upon their merits could not survive the test of an examination by the Pension Bureau, and whose only hope of success depends upon sympathy, often misdirected, instead of right and justice. The instrumentality organized by law for the determination of pension, claims is thus often overruled and discredited, and there is danger that in the end popular prejudice will be created against those who are worthily entitled to the bounty of the Government.
There has lately been presented to me, on the same day, for approval, nearly 240 special bills granting and increasing pensions and restoring to the pension list the names of parties which for cause have been dropped. To aid Executive duty they were referred to the Pension Bureau for examination and report. After a delay absolutely necessary they have been returned to me within a few hours of the limit constitutionally permitted for Executive action. Two hundred and thirty-two of these bills are thus classified:
Eighty-one cover cases in which favorable action by the Pension Bureau was denied by reason of the insufficiency of the testimony filed to prove the facts alleged.
These bills I have approved on the assumption that the claims were meritorious and that by the passage of the bills the Government has waived full proof of the facts.
Twenty-six of the bills cover claims rejected by the Pension Bureau because the evidence produced tended to prove that the alleged disability existed before the claimant's enlistment; 21 cover claims which have been denied by such Bureau because the evidence tended to show that the disability, though contracted in the service, was not incurred in the line of duty; 33 cover claims which have been denied because the evidence tended to establish that the disability originated after the soldier's discharge from the Army; 47 cover claims which have been denied because the general pension laws contain no provisions under which they could be allowed, and 24 of the claims have never been presented to the Pension Bureau.
I estimate the expenditure involved in these bills at more than $35,000 annually.
Though my conception of public duty leads me to the conclusion, upon the slight examination which I have been able to give such of these bills as are not comprised in the first class above mentioned, that many of them should be disapproved, I am utterly unable to submit within the time allowed me for that purpose my objections to the same.
They will therefore become operative without my approval.
A sufficient reason for the return of the particular bill now under consideration is found in the fact that it provides that the name of Andrew J. Hill be placed upon the pension roll, while the records of the Pension Bureau, as well as a medical certificate made a part of the committee's report, disclose that the correct name of the intended beneficiary is Alfred J. Hill.