The Bonus Army: Fighting For Veterans
In 1776, the practice of providing military bonuses during war time began as a way to compensate a soldier for the difference between what he could have earned had he not enlisted and what he actually earned. Congress also adopted the first national pension law in August 1776 to provide disabled soldiers with half-pay for life.
Two years after the Continental Army was demobilized in 1781, hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia demanding back pay while Congress was in session. The Congress fled to Princeton, and, within two weeks, the U.S. Army expelled the veterans. In 1788, Congress passed legislation to cover pensions and bonuses. In 1836, the benefit was extended to widows.
At First, The Bonuses Included Land
Prior to World War I, the bonus was land and money, although that became an issue, particularly in Tennessee, where close to 40% of arable land was given to veterans; the lack of arable land led to a cash-only system. The veterans of the Spanish-American war did not receive a bonus, and after World War I, the bonus had shrunk considerably. The American Legion, which was created in 1919, led the political movement for an additional bonus.
Some WWI Veterans Were Going To Have To Wait 20 Years
Although President Coolidge vetoed a bill granting bonuses to World War I veterans, Congress overrode him, passing the World War Adjusted Compensation Act in 1924. If the amount was $50 or less, the money was paid immediately, while other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service, maturing in 20 years. The money was to come out of a trust fund.