• U.S.

HEROES: Last Short Mile

7 minute read

In 1918 some 1,300,000 U. S. citizens got to France, went to the front, actually fought Germans. Some 3,500,000 additional citizens behind the lines performed less dangerous duties in the armed forces of the U. S. For the last 15 years the political agents of 3,500,000 veterans have been engaged in a combat to get cash from the U. S. Treasury. They already had: 1) their pay of $1 per day or more; 2) their $60 discharge bonus; 3) their transportation allowance home; 4) benefits from cheap Government life insurance; 5) free hospitalization for a multitude of ailments; 6) pensions for wounds received in battle, for disabilities received in noncombat service, for ailments merely “presumed” to have been caused by the War. Nevertheless they wanted a Bonus on the ground that those who stayed at home in 1917-18 made much more out of the War than they did. They did not call what they wanted a Bonus but Adjusted Service Compensation. The advance through the Argonne was not more bitterly contested than this battle for a Bonus. Step by step, with many a halt and several severe repulses, the veterans fought their arduous way toward the Treasury. Last week they swept victoriously on to their goal, finding the last mile of their 15-year-long road the shortest of all.

The first Bonus Bill in 1922 was knocked out by President Harding’s veto. In 1924 President Coolidge’s veto could not prevent a Bonus Bill from passing, but, in the face of his stern pressure for economy, the only bill which could pass over his disapproval was one that postponed the day of payment 20 years. By 1931 the veterans’ lobbies had put a fresh scare into Congress and Depression hardships provided a popular new argument. Hence, despite President Hoover’s veto, the veterans actually got some cash. Even so, the principle that the Bonus should not be paid until 1945 was maintained by means of “loans” up to 50% of the certificates’ maturity value.

Little did anyone realize that an apparent setback for the veterans’ long drive was to turn to their advantage. Franklin Roosevelt came out against full payment of the Bonus during the 1932 campaign, was elected on a pledge to reduce Government expenditures. For a time even pensions were cut. Then President Roosevelt reversed himself, adopted a deliberate policy of increasing Government expenditures. At that point the veterans’ battle was all but won. Once more last May they were repulsed when the President whipped his political followers into line to sustain his Bonus veto, but the defenses of the Treasury were already fast collapsing. When the end of the long struggle came last week, it was for two reasons a pushover :

¶ However good a case Franklin Roosevelt might make for distinguishing the six or eight billions he had spent on relief from the two billions demanded by the veterans, Congress did not at heart believe in his distinction. The jobless and the farmers had been helped too munificently from the Federal Treasury to deny similar bounties to veterans. Economy alone could stiffen the backbone of the defenders of the Treasury and economy, for good reason or bad, has been in fact abandoned by the U. S. Government.

¶ It was obviously against Franklin Roosevelt’s political interests to oppose the Bonus to the last ditch. If he did so and succeeded, it might cost him the election of 1936. It was more likely, however, that a last ditch stand would fail because of the spending habits which he had taught Congress. In that case, to order his followers to stand up and fight would only bring down the vengeance of the veterans on those who were loyal enough to obey him. And those who were defeated for being loyal might become his enemies. No politician can increase his strength by putting his own followers on the spot.

Franklin Roosevelt did not choose to do so. Although repeating to the public his opposition to the Bonus, he passed no word on to the Capitol that it must be defeated at any political price. Up to the last moment his Senate leaders were not even told positively that he would veto it. If he had delivered his veto message impressively in person as he did last May, those who voted to override might have been accused of having betrayed their President, but he did not place them in such a position. Two days after the Senate passed the Bonus Bill, substituting cashable bonds for direct cash, the House adopted 346-10-59 the Senate version.

Two days after that Franklin Roosevelt shot his veto back to the Capitol. To give it a personal touch he made it brief and wrote it out in full with his own hand—the only veto message in Presidential manuscript which the Library of Congress last week could find. Said he: “On May 22. 1935, in disapproving a bill to pay the Bonus in full immediately instead of in 1945. I gave in person to a joint session of the Congress complete and explicit reasons for my action. . . . The circumstances, arguments and facts remain essentially the same as those fully covered and explained by me only eight months ago.

“I respectfully refer the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives to every word of what I said then.

“My convictions are as impelling today as they were then. Therefore I cannot change them.” Overjoyed at being let off with no more than a sample of the Presidential handwriting and a reminder of last year, the Bonuseers in the House could not wait to override the veto. Brushing aside the regular calendar, they repassed the bill, 324-to-61. Three days later the Senate followed suit, 76-to-19, not a Senator having changed sides since the original passage of the bill fortnight ago. The Bonus Bill, the President’s objections to the contrary notwithstanding, became law.

Details of how veterans may convert their bonus certificates into cash and bonds are still to be fixed by regulations to be issued by the Veterans’ Administration. Nevertheless the outlines of the procedure are set forth in the new law. Sample case of a veteran with a certificate of $990 face value:

First he must make application to the Veterans’ Bureau for conversion. If he has not borrowed on his certificate, he will in the course of time receive $950 in baby bonds and a check for $40. If, like most of his fellows, he has already borrowed 50% ($495) on his bonus, that sum will be deducted from his $990. If he has paid interest on his loan, he will get $450 in bonds and a $45 check. If, again like most of his fellows, he has paid no interest, that charge as far back as Oct. 1, 1931 will be forgiven and forgotten. If his loan dates from July 1, 1931, he will owe interest for three months at 4½% ($5.57), which will be subtracted from the $495 due him. Thus he will receive $450 in bonds and a check for $39.43. The check he can cash at once. The bonds, he cannot sell or hock. However, any time after next June 15 he can take them to any post office or other place designated by the Secretary of the Treasury and on demand turn them in for cash. If he cashes the bonds between June 15, 1936 and June 15, 1937 he will receive their face value. If he cashes them on June 15, 1937 he will get the face value plus 3% a year compound interest. If he holds them until maturity, June 15, 1945, he will then receive about $585 for his $450 in bonds.

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