All posts by William Fogarty

Iraq and Afghanistan: PTSD and G.I. Bill Reform

When the United States first declared War on Iraq in 2001, there was a tremendous amount of support for it due to the attack on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. Many young men and women hoped to seek revenge on the perpetrators of the attack, and avenge the death of the civilians that died that day. While this is a very noble sentiment, the nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it very difficult for returning veterans to assimilate into society. There are many contributing factors to the difficulties of this war, including the inability to distinguish innocent civilians from enemies, the lack of public involvement in the war, and the atrocities that are committed against civilians. To try and combat the difficulty that many returning soldiers are experiencing, the federal government has now amended the G.I. Bill another time, making it easier for those that have served after September 11 to acquire post was benefits, and transfer these benefits to their dependents.

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While the Vietnam War was protested by a very large amount of citizens as the war continued to drag out, there has been a trend of returning veterans that have been protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the most outspoken and widely recognized veterans is Thomas Young, who, like many young men and women enlisted to serve his country in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Within just five days of being deployed in Iraq, however, he was hit by a bullet that severed his spinal cord, and left his legs paralyzed. Since his return from the war, he has had a documentary called “Body of War” done on his life. This is an extremely eye opening documentary that has illuminated the struggles that he, like so many veterans, has experienced since his homecoming. He has since been divorced, is on thirty different types of medication, and has to use a catheter to use relieve himself. This demonstrates that even if one is lucky enough to survive the war, it does not mean that his problems have ended. In fact, in some ways the pain that he has experienced, and the suffering that his family has gone through has been prolonged by his survival. He was recently in the news again about a year ago, stating that he was deciding to let himself starve to death instead of continuing to suffer. While he has since changed his mind and continued living, the fact that he at one point considered death a better option reveals how poor his quality of life. As the financial toll of the war continues to skyrocket, one must remember that some families are paying much more than money. They are paying with suffering, as pain, fighting, divorce, and misery, which carry on even though the War in Iraq has ended.

Thomas Young
Thomas Young

It has been estimated that  19 percent of veterans returning from Iraq suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while only 11 percent of those returning from Afghanistan suffer from PTSD (Miller 908). While PTSD is present in all wars, it seems that many of the psychological traumas that veterans are experiencing during the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are caused by cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is caused by one’s behavior conflicting with one’s internal beliefs. An example of this is Garret Peppenhagen, a returning veteran. He expected to go to war and feel as though he was being heroic. Instead, he felt like “an asshole”, and claimed as though his service in Iraq had caused him to “[act] like a Nazi” (Gutmann and Lutz 16). He was unable to communicate with many of the civilians, and had to resort to violent and aggressive measures to ensure his own safety. He began to wonder what good he was doing during his time in Iraq, and has been psychologically damaged by his actions. Another famous veteran that opposed the war on his return home was Ricky Clousing. He saw many war crimes being committed during his tour in Iraq, and civilians being killed and harassed (Gutmann and Lutz 17). Ricky turned himself in for war crimes, and served a three month sentence in a North Carolina Brig. Both he and Garret are among a new trend of soldiers that are opposing the psychological damage that they have felt as a result of the war being classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They instead insist that this is a natural human reaction to both the atrocities that they have witnessed during the war, and the guilt that they feel as a result of being a victimizer. Clousing claims that they are actually tapped into their human, spiritual and emotional side enough to feel the war’s effects on them (Gutmann and Lutz 18). They attribute their trauma to the dehumanizing orders that they must follow, and the unjust nature of these two wars. In this way, they are part of a growing number of veterans that place the blame on the government for allowing them to go to war in the first place, and on the military and its alleged corruption. Though this war has been protested by a significant number of veterans, the government has attempted to help psychologically damaged veterans, and increase the amount of coverage that veterans receive under the G.I. Bill.

One way that the government is attempting to help veterans returning with psychological issues is that the Department of Defense (DOD) has instituted a universal screening program to monitor the health, including the mental health, of troops returning from combat. The screening is a questionnaire given to soldiers that are returning home from their deployment. The problem with this is that it has been shown to be relatively ineffective. Some reasons are that there is still a stigma against admitting to mental health problems, the soldiers do not take them seriously because they want to return home sooner, and that their symptoms have not started showing because they have not been back long enough to notice them. Another measure that the federal government has taken in an effort to assist retuning veterans is to increase the amount of veterans that are covered by the G. I. Bill. A veteran is now more than likely eligible if they have “at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days” (http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp). This new amendment to the bill was passed under Barack Obama’s administration in 2008, as a way to reward the brave men and women who served their country after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The new bill includes a greater amount of both educational coverage for returning veterans, and the ability to transfer unused benefits to dependents (i.e. spouses and children). This is extremely important because it gives an even greater incentive to join the military. It allows a soldier not only an income to support their family, but the ability to use their educational benefits or weekly allowance on their children. Even though there has been debate about whether the federal government was justified in entering into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are attempting to do a better job of taking care of their returning veterans, and provide their families with better coverage.

When the United States first committed to going to war in Iraq, there was a lot of support from home due to the attacks of September 11, 2001. As time went on, however, the public seemed to have lost, and continued living their daily lives relatively unaffected. In fact, the people that seem to protest the wars the most were the returning veterans. The examples of Thomas Young, Garret Peppenhagen, and Ricky Clouse demonstrate the negative effects that the war has on returning veterans, physically, mentally, and even legally. They also help to illuminate that the problems do not simply end when a soldier returns from combat. A wounded veteran, psychologically or physically, must deal with the ramifications of their injuries for years to come. Even though the government has attempted to help these wounded warriors by implementing increased benefits from the G.I. Bill, and preliminary screening when soldiers return home, it is still a struggle for many to assimilate into society. It is impossible for a soldier to be completely unaffected by war, and with the lack of public awareness about Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems to make it more difficult for returning veterans to return to their ordinary lives.

http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asphttp://

http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/history.asp

Greg Miller. Widening the Attack on Combat-Related Mental Health Problems. Science, New Series, Vol. 313, No. 5789 (Aug. 18, 2006), pp. 908-909.

Matthew Gutmann and Catherine Lutz. Becoming Monsters in Iraq. Anthropology Now, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 2009), pp. 12-20.

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Vietnam Aftermath: PTSD, Familial Strains and Veteran’s benefits

During the course of their lives, everyone experiences trauma. Whether it is the loss of a grandparent, having a relationship with a significant other end, or having to put down a beloved family pet, traumatic experiences help shape one’s world view. One will usually find it difficult to put trauma into words, as it affects a person on a spiritual, physical, and emotional level. This is how many veterans of foreign wars feel after returning home. How can a veteran describe what it is like to be under fire day and night, to watch young men their own age die in front of them, and to be thousands of miles away from friends and family? It seems to be an impossible task. This phenomenon was particularly evident after the end of the Vietnam War, as studies of veterans returning with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became more frequent. As awareness of PTSD increased in the years following the Vietnam War, it was observed that veterans suffering from PTSD experienced more strain on their familial relationships, even though more veterans of Vietnam utilized the G.I. Bill, and were offered better treatment for their psychological issues.

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As mentioned in prior research papers, American society once had a stigma against seeking help for mental illnesses. Mental illness was viewed as something to be ashamed of, and it was considered a sign of weakness to seek help for psychological issues. This cultural norm may seem appalling to modern-day American citizens, and with just cause. Soldiers experiencing intense hallucinations, anxiety, or depression when returning home from battle were taught to keep it inside, and to tough it out by themselves. For the first time, however, after the conclusion of the Vietnam War, veterans began to be encouraged to seek help for their mental health problems. In fact, by 1980, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was officially recognized as a psychological disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. This was an extremely important stride in helping returning veterans that suffered from the effects of PTSD, because the first step to recovery from mental illness is diagnosis. PTSD was defined as “night-mares, loss of control over behavior, emotional numbing and withdrawal from the environment, hyper-alertness, and anxiety and depression” (Shehan 55). There were even reasons enumerated for why it was believed that battle field related PTSD occurred. These included constant fear of death, intense feelings of loss, persistent guilt, and daily disruption and destruction (Constance 55-56). Due to this increase in knowledge about the harsh realities of PTSD, social scientists and psychologists were able to study its effects on families, and observe ways to help these families survive the difficulties of the mental illness.

As one would expect, it was observed that families with a veteran that suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced increased amounts of spousal tension and relational strains. There are many obvious reasons that there were increased relational strains, including the fact that it is simply difficult to be patient with a person that has a psychological illness. The biggest problem that couples faced with a soldier returned with PTSD is that it caused breakdowns in communication (Shehan 56). As discussed before, veterans that suffer from this disorder have a difficult time expressing themselves, and being able to articulate the trials that they faced on a daily basis. How can one describe to their wife that they can still actually smell the gunpowder or hear the shells exploding? It is impossible for a veteran to convey this to a civilian, and can cause immense amounts of tension. Wives and girlfriends would become increasingly frustrated, as their significant others suffered silently, and seemingly could not be helped. Another, much more destructive quality of many returning veterans was an explosive temper. This led to irrational, dangerous, and terrifying behavior from the suffering soldier, that could make daily life almost unbearable.

For those that have not been exposed to a person that is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it may be difficult to understand how difficult it is to deal with. First-hand accounts, however, can offer the unexposed civilian a glimpse into the lives of those affected by PTSD. The first account that offers insight into the lives of families with husbands suffering from the disorder is a wive’s observation of the  changes in her husband. She said “”Vietnam ruined our lives. I keep remembering the Alan of before. He was affectionate, considerate, kind. When he returned, he had a quick temper, no patience, could not concentrate … right now I do not like him.” (Shehan  57). This observation helps illuminate the earlier point that it is simply more difficult to live with a victim of PTSD. He returned from the war a completely changed man, and his wife’s satisfaction with the marriage decreased significantly. A second account reveals that irrational and paranoid behavior increased dissatisfaction as well. A different soldier’s wife recalls that one time upon returning from work, he “flew into a rage because someone had forgotten to set the fork and spoon at his place. He thought we did that on purpose, that we didn’t want him there! ” (Shehan 58). This helps further illuminate the fact that communication breakdown was a byproduct of PTSD. His irrational behavior would push away his wife and children, and create a rift between himself and the rest of his family. The final firsthand account, this time from a soldier himself, reveals how dangerous the anger from PTSD can be. This soldier recollects a particularly horrifying incident in which he returned home to find his wife and neighbor looking at a photo album. He remembers that “We started looking at the album and I just flipped out. I started throwing shit everywhere. I beat my wife over the head with a full quart bottle of beer. I had a handful of butcher knives in each hand and I was threatening to cut them (Shehan 56). Most people do not realize that PTSD is terrifying, for both the person that is suffering from it and those that are surrounding them. This helps explain a phenomena that plagued households with a veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. This phenomenon is called communication apprehension. Communication apprehension is when the “emotional and psychological cost of communicating with spouse outweighs possible benefits of interacting” (Shehan 58). In other words, for fear of receiving verbal abuse, or at times much worse, prevented wives and children from even talking to their father at all, causing a rift that could be insurmountable. This is because the only thing worse for a relationship than negative communication behavior is no communication at all. It further alienated the suffering veteran, and may have caused symptoms to become worse. Even though PTSD is a very sad and disturbing disorder, the veterans of Vietnam had it better than the generations before them. As the years progressed after the finish of the war, many Veterans utilized government programs to help themselves, while therapists, other veterans, and wives learned how to help the suffering veterans assimilate back into society.

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One of the most important keys to a successful assimilation back into society following the Vietnam War was forming healthy relationships with other veterans. This is because it is important to have someone to relate to the horrors that they experienced, and be able to sympathize with them instead of simply empathizing with them. Unlike with their spouses and children, it was therapeutic to have someone who understood what it was like being in battle, and decreased the amount of alienation that many veterans feel after the conclusion of a war. It allowed veterans to vent their problems without fear of judgment, and this was important in decreasing anxiety and stress. It was also beneficial that there were many new studies about PTSD that came out at this time, so that family members and psychologists were able to develop strategies to help the veterans recover. Wives were encouraged to listen empathetically to their husband’s stories, and to avoid negative reactions to any atrocities that they may have committed on the battlefield. This way they could feel that they could turn to their wives without being judged, and could improve their communication. While these support systems that veterans had were vastly important, the G.I. bill helped them to achieve educational goals and earn jobs, allowing them to be productive members of society again. While it seems to be common knowledge that Vietnam veterans struggled to get back on their feet after the war, the statistics seem to suggest otherwise. A whopping sixty percent of Vietnam veterans used to G.I. bill to continue their education, and a total of sixty-four percent of veterans used the G.I. Bill in some way. This was more than any of the prior wars, so the perception that Vietnam veterans struggled more than previous veterans seems to be more of a misconception. The most telling statistic that supports this argument, however, is that Vietnam veterans’ median salary was a full twenty-four dollars more than that of the average American civilian. These telling statistics, as well as the increase in awareness of PTSD and how to help treat it illuminate the fact that while returning from war is not easy, many Vietnam veterans took advantage of the opportunities given to them to improve their lives.

For some Vietnam veterans, the horrors of war did not cease when they left the front lines. Sometimes war followed them home, seeped into their veins, and flooded their consciousness with doubt, anger, and terror. It caused them to push away their families, misdirect their anger on those they love, and sometimes fly into a violent rage, hurting those closest to them. It caused communication breakdowns between the psychologically scarred soldier and their sheltered, civilian family. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very grave mental illness that many people underestimate. Some do not realize that it can lead to domestic violence and the destruction of the nuclear family. While many veterans did suffer immensely, a large portion of those that served were able to take advantage of the psychological and financial assistance that was offered to them. Though the Vietnam veterans are often considered something of a lost generation, many were able to overcome the challenges that faced them, and assimilate successfully back into the society that they had fought for.

•Constance L. Shehan. Family Relations, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1987), pp. 55-60

•Eric T. Dean Jr. Journal of American Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Apr., 1992), pp. 59-74

•E. James Lieberman. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 33, No. 4, Special Double Issue: Violence and the Family and Sexism in Family Studies, Part 2 (Nov., 1971), pp. 709-721

http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2010/04/looking-back-at-the-vietnam-wa.html

http://www.lyndsiwithawhy.com/2014/01/28/why-the-vietnam-war-is-on-my-mind/

World War II Post War Issues

With a war between Ukraine and Russia seeming imminent, and rumors circulating of a possible draft  as the United States decides whether to engage its self into yet another armed conflict, it may seem strange that being enlisted could ever be a better option than remaining at home. Being enlisted in the military, however, once offered an opportunity for soldiers to have an improved quality of life. During the Great Depression, unemployment was rampant. As a result, as the United States entered World War II, many men welcomed the income that a military career offered them. Though it meant risking their lives, it allowed them to provide an income to support their families. In addition to this, there were a number of improvements to the veteran’s pension system that allowed the returning soldiers to be assimilate successfully after the war ended. In the end, however, over 400,000 American soldiers died, and many that survived suffered from the crippling affects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though many veterans had difficulties assimilating into society after the end of World War II due to symptoms of PTSD, the G.I. Bill of 1944 allowed veterans increased benefits after the war and helped them thrive after the war ended, while simultaneously paving the way for greater government intervention in the lives of its citizens.

Though soldiers have likely been suffering from Post Traumatic  Stress Disorder since the beginning of War itself, there have been a variety of different names assigned to it. After World War I, “shell shock”, was the term used to describe the symptoms. After the end of World War II, however, the term that was used to describe psychologically ill veterans was “combat fatigue”. Unfortunately, for many returning veterans, the social stigma for mental illness was that it showed weakness. Because of this, returning veterans adopted the tactic of suffering in silence, and avoided their issues instead of confronting them. A few ways that they did this were by turning to religion, alcohol, or  immersing themselves in their schooling and career. Due to this avoidance of their psychological issues, a new trend of “delayed-onset PTSD” began to occur (Langer 53). Delayed-onset PTSD is a phenomenon is World War II veterans, where symptoms of PTSD went away for decades during young adulthood, only to return with vengeance when the soldier became middle aged. It is believed that this was caused by the avoidance of the trauma that they experienced during the war, as the G.I. bill provided new opportunities for veterans to create new lives for themselves. As they grew older, however, they experienced a midlife crisis. They would begin to reflect on their lives, and this self-reflection brought back the memories of chaos and death that they had worked so hard to avoid all their lives. This differed from the trend of soldiers after the Civil War, where men returned from the war, and were evermore entirely different men. One large contributing factor to returning World War II veterans being able to assimilate into society better than Civil War veterans was the development of the pension system, as bills such as the G.I. Bill of 1944 made it possible for veterans to make their lives better than they were before the war.

After the end of the Civil War, the federal government began to allow a large portion of Union veterans to receive pensions. As more time passed after the war’s end, the amount of veterans able to receive pensions increased, and the laws for collecting pensions grew increasingly more relaxed. This trend continued throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1930, the Veterans Administration (VA) was established to better assist returning veterans. The VA went to work immediately, and drastically increased the number of veteran’s hospitals. More importantly, the VA was responsible for the passing of The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (also referred to as the G.I. Bill). This bill was one of the most important acts filed in the aftermath of the war. There were three parts to the act after it was passed in congress. The first and most essential clause in the G.I. Bill was that returning veterans received financial support to be able to attend college. This applied to all veterans, even if they had not attended college before the war. This was the most significant clause because it made them more employable, and helped flood the economy with competent workers. An incredible amount of veterans used this opportunity, with forty-nine percent of all college admissions in the year 1947 being U.S. veterans, and 7.8 million out of the 16 million veterans using this clause (Education and Training- History and Timeline). These 7.8 million veterans contributed greatly to the economic boom that the United States experienced after the duration of the war. The second clause of the G.I. Bill is that every veteran was able to receive a housing loan. While this did not contribute to the economy the same way as the education clause, it did provide the returning soldiers with a sense of stability that was impossible to find in the chaos of battle. At this time, home ownership was not as common as it is today. The G.I. Bill made it possible for them to settle down and  provide shelter for their families, something that was often unattainable during the Great Depression. Over a fifth of returning veterans used this clause, as 2.4 million home loans were provided by the Veterans Association between the years 1944 and 1952 (Education and Training- History and Timeline). The final and most controversial clause of the G.I. Bill was that the government was to give unemployed veterans a stipend of twenty dollars a week. This was controversial because  many people feared that this system was be abused, similar to the pension system following the Civil War. It was believed that this weekly stipend would eliminate the veterans motivation to find employment, and that the average working American would be footing the bill. This did not come to fruition, however, as a mere twenty percent of the budget set aside for unemployed veterans was used (Education and Training- History and Timeline). Though the G.I. Bill was paramount in improving the lives of veterans, its long term ramifications are at least equally important, if not more so.

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The G.I. Bill of 1944 was without a doubt a great stride in helping veterans assimilate into society after the end of the war. It did have its shortcomings, however. One glaring omission of this bill is that it did not provide disturbed veterans with proper psychological assistance. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder had not yet been recognized as a mental illness, so there was no proper protocol for treating it. The social stigma at the time, as mentioned before, was that mental illness showed weakness, and seeking medical help was not condoned. Due to this stigma. many veterans attempted to overcome their issues on their own. The symptoms that many veterans experienced, however, were much too serious to deal with alone. Some symptoms included vivid hallucinations, depression, and cognitive dissonance caused by persistent blood lust. The G.I. Bill served as more of a distraction from the reality of psychological issues, rather than a treatment and eventual cure. This helps explain the increase in delayed-onset PTSD. Going to college, finding a new career, creating a family, and buying a home all served as short term avoidance techniques for psychologically ill veterans, but eventually the illness would overwhelm them as they aged. Though the G.I. Bill was a significant stride in assisting veteran assimilation into American society, mental illness was not properly addressed, and many ill veterans suffered the consequences decades later. Even more significant, however, is that the G.I. Bill continued a trend of federal government expansion that helped shape the policies that the United States has adopted today.

In the aftermath of World War I, the government took a hands off approach in regards to returning veterans. According to the U.S Department of Veteran’s affairs, “discharged Veterans got little more than a $60 allowance and a train ticket home” (Education and Training- History and Timeline). In fact, the government had adopted a hands off approach to nearly all aspects of government during the years leading up to the Great Depression. The 1920’s, also known as the roaring 20’s was one of the most prosperous decades in United States history. Free market capitalism ruled supreme, as no president or congress wanted to disrupt the economic success that the country was experiencing. The problem with free market capitalism,however, is that is follows a trend of “boom and bust”. This means that after times of economic growth, there is inevitably a crash that follows. That crash was the Great Depression, and it was the worst financial crisis in United States history. As unemployment skyrocketed, there was increasing anger that the government did not try to intervene to quicken economic recovery. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, he began a series of policies called the “New Deal”, in which the government began to intervene in the economy. The G.I. Bill that was passed after the war ended continued this trend of increased government intervention into the lives of its citizens. The government paying for its veterans to be unemployed was a dramatic step towards the more socialist policies that the government has adopted today. In fact, it can be argued that the roots of the recently implemented Affordable Care Act are found in the G.I. Bill of 1944. The G.I. Bill helped take care of returning veterans, and gave them opportunities to better their lives. The Affordable Care Act extends this policy of government assistance to all of its citizens, as they are granted the right to seek medical attention. In this way, the G.I. Bill did not just affect World War II veterans and their families. It helped pave the way for all American families to receive federal assistance. For this reason, the G.I. Bill is one of the most influential bills ever passed by congress. Its affects are being felt daily, as the government exponentially expands its grasp on the lives of its citizens.

Whether one supports or opposes the recently enacted Affordable Care Act, one cannot deny that it will positively affect the lives of the greatly impoverished. It assists those that are in dire need, and provides them with unprecedented opportunities to better their lives. In the same way, the G.I. Bill of 1944 drastically improved the lives of returning veterans, and helped to assimilate the battle weary into post-war society. While the bill, was not perfect, and the mentally ill often went without proper and competent treatment, it was a great stride in assisting those that are willing to risk their lives for their country. Whether it is a good or bad, the government is undeniably extending its reach into the lives of its citizens, and the roots of this trend also stem from the G.I. Bill. In conclusion, the post war issues that the United States faced in the aftermath of World War II helped shape the governmental policies that exist today, and altered the lives of its modern citizens.post-war-kelvinator-well-live-happily-every-after-1945-wmk

Academic Search Complete: LANGER, RON. War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities. 2011, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p50-58. 9p.
“Education and Training- History and Timeline.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2009/06/17/the-gi-bill

Civil War Veterans and Pensions: Corruption and Prejudice

When people speak of the Civil War, it is often in terms of the loss of life that was experienced during it. The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American History, with both death and casualty rates reaching staggering percentages. One thing that is often forgotten, is that even the Veterans that were lucky enough to make it home faced enormous hardships. With the economic devastation that plagued most of the nation, many soldiers returned home to find that their land had been forfeited in their absence, or that their families were close to starvation. Due to the great need of many veterans, especially those that were disabled, the government began to give out pensions for soldiers in need. More importantly, the government also gave out a great deal of pensions to widows and orphans, who lost their main source of income as their provider died during the war. While the pensions were at times tremendous help to those in need , the pension system itself was very poorly managed, as pension fraud and race discrimination gave unworthy men large sums of money, and deprived many families of much needed funds.REUNION

According to an article by Francis E Leupp in Forum Magazine, there were two aspects of fraud that plagued the American Pension system in the years following the Civil War (4). The first aspect of the Pension System that was flawed and allowed for fraud to occur is that once agents of the Pension Bureau saw that there was more money available to claims agents, many swiftly left their jobs to make an easy fortune. This would not be a dire issue if all men that did this were upstanding and moral, and chose to use their knowledge of the Pension System to benefit veterans in need. It turns out, however, that many men did not show this nobility in their work, and devoted much of their time to winning pensions for men that had never seen the battlefield. The former Bureau Agents knew the ins and outs of filing the claims, and had seen which strategies were most effective.They used their knowledge of the system to formulate claims with diction that could invoke pathos in even the most stone-hearted Bureau Chiefs (Leupp 5).  Another disadvantage of Claim agents being former Bureau Agents not mentioned by Leupp is that undoubtedly, some claim agents had formed relationships with Bureau agents during the time they worked together. While it would be wrong to unjustly accuse these Bureau Agents of actively participating in fraudulent behaviors, it cannot be doubted that a personal relationship with a Claims Agent would give at least slight advantage to any client that they represent. This includes clients that were had either not been enrolled in the army, or were not as injured as they attempted to portray themselves. A final advantage that many claim agents had over the Pension Bureau was that prima facie was very easy to establish in a court. Prima facie is a legal term that means “a fact that is deemed to be true and valid until a contradicting evidence is presented” (The Law Dictionary). In other words, a” veteran” had to be taken at their word unless there was substantial evidence that proved that they were lying. As the years passed, veterans died and the Civil War faded into the backdrop of history, it became increasingly difficult to prove that a man had not served. If a man were to claim that he was at a particular battle, and were to name a company and a general idea of what the company had done during the battle, it was harder to find anyone that could confirm or deny that he had served. Due to all three of these issues that stemmed from Bureau Agents turning into claim agents, many men that deserved little or no pension received large checks from the federal government.

Despite fraudulent claims being a large part of the problem that faced the Pension Bureau, another type of fraud threatened the system’s integrity. Fraudulent medical examinations were also a major issue. To begin with, the process of selecting the examiners is described by Leupp as “slipshod”, as Senators and Representatives recommended candidates to a Commissioner that often knew little to nothing of the examiners capabilities (6). Needless to say, there were examiners appointed to these positions that did not merit them. In fact, there were instances where claims agents helped the examiners become elected. When this happened, corruption often followed. These examiners felt indebted to the agents, and would help their clients promptly pass their examinations. There were even cases of “specialists” that diagnosed all patients that went to see them with the exact same disorder. One such instance occurred as a board determined that all thirty-two patients that visited them during a weak had heart murmurs. When another board examined the twelve of the patients, it was determined that not a single one had heart problems (Leupp 7).  Not all instances of the medical examiner were due to corruption on their part, however. Leupp states that one problem many examiners had is that they allowed their emotions to be “unduly moved by cases that appear pitiful” (7). This also ties back to claim agents, and their relationship to pension frauds. Claim agents knew how to evoke pity in the medical examiners, as the did the commissioners. It is human nature to be empathize with the plight of others, and this could be taken advantage of to validate fradulent claims. They were able to tell their clients the right words to use in order to sway examiners, and pass their medical exams. Whether fraud was intentionally committed by the medical examiners, or that they were simply duped into believing that a veteran was injured when he was not, the end result was that many undeserving men received pensions.  injured veterans

Though it angers many people to think of impostors posing as veterans and receiving financial benefits that they do not deserve, it is a far greater travesty when a deserving veteran was rejected by the system. In a country still reeling from the effects of slavery that had plagued the nation since its very existence, race was still a major barrier that prevented the citizens of the nation from coming together as one. This is reflected clearly in the case of Clay Ballard. Clay served in the 116th colored infantry during the war, but did not apply for a pension until after 1890. In the year 1890, the pension laws expanded, allowing veterans that were not injured on the battlefield, but were currently ill, to apply for pensions. As his health was begining to decline, Clay jumped on the opportunity to help support his family, and applied for a pension in Lexington, Kentucky. In Lexington, he was declared perfectly healthy, and did not receive a pension. Clay claimed that he was discriminated against because he was in the state of Kentucky and tried to have his examination moved into Ohio. Instead, he got another attempt at the exam in Frankfurt Kentucky. This time he was determined to be partially disabled by illness, yet still had his pension denied by the board. It was not until after his death that his wife had a third exam on him done, and it was determined that Mr. Ballard was almost completely paralyzed, and received compensation for her husband’s service (Logue and Blanck 378-379). This was a common theme for African Americans in the years following the Civil War. Whether because of outright racial discrimination, or mistrust between the races, the number of African Americans that received pensions was far less than the number of white Americans. Before the change of law in 1890, 75.1% of whites that applied were recommended for pension, while only 67.9% of black applicants were recommended for pension. There was a far greater gap between percentages of each race receiving pensions. 77.9% of the whites recommended for pensions received pensions, while just 39.4% of black applicants received pensions (Logue and Blanck 391). The numbers after the law change in 1890 that made it easier to obtain pension were a little closer, but not much. (90.4% of white applicants were recommended while 78.4% of black citizens were. The percentage of African Americans that got pensions raised tp 45.7%, while white applicants dropped to 72.5% success rate of being awarded pension (Logue and Blanck). Any way one looks at these numbers, it is evident that prejudice played a large roll in the pension system. This is not especially surprising with the animosities that many of the Southern States still showed towards blacks. It is saddening to know, however, that some African Americans could do nothing to earn the trust of whites. Not even fighting in the army and risking their life was enough for some.

Though the pension system was very beneficial for many of the families in poverty, it did have its limitations. Newly freed African Americans that had fought for their freedom were often denied pensions that they rightfully deserved. Claims agents and fake veterans were able to make a quick fortune by duping the government, as fradulant medical examiners enabled them to do so. The pension system took up large proportions of the budget, as military spending skyrocketed. The years after the Civil War were very tumultuous for all Americans, as the loss of life and destruction of property took its tolls on all citizens, Union and Confederate. As one reflects on the era, however, Civil War pensions were a necessity, and despite the fortunes made by claim agents, the incompotent or corrupt medical examiners, and the discrimination felt by many African Americans. The government was proactive in helping the people that had fought to perserve the union, and in helping the widows and orphans of those that lost their life. Civil War pensions were a good place for the federal government to work out how to help its citizens, without being taken advantage of. In this way, the federal government began ta slight shift away from its Laissez-Fair policies, and became more involved in the life of its citizens, ultimately, for the better.

“Benefit of the Doubt”: African-American Civil War Veterans and Pensions Larry M. Logue, Peter Blanck
The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Winter, 2008), pp. 377-399

Leupp, Francis E. “DEFECTS IN OUR PENSION SYSTEM.” Forum (1886-1930) 08 1901: 670. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2014 .

“What is PRIMA FACIE?” The Law Dictionary. 26 Feb. 2014 <http://thelawdictionary.org/prima-facie-2/&gt;.

http://www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line/happy-veterans-day

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/lifeandlimb/index.html