Throughout American history, the veterans of armed conflicts have been guaranteed a range of benefits in order to support them after their military careers are over. In fact, as early as 1636, soldiers in the Plymouth Colony were guaranteed lifetime support and assistance if they were rendered disabled fighting in the defense of the colony
The Continental Congress, in 1780, adopted the first federal response to the needs of veterans, providing pensions to those who were injured in the Revolutionary War. After the U.S. government finally adopted its current federal form in 1789, the requirement of paying veteran’s pensions passed fully to the federal government, with the first federal pension legislation being adopted in that same year.
By the War of 1812, the pension program had extended to provide benefits not only to soldiers injured during the war, but also to grant benefits for a limited period of time to the survivors and dependents of soldiers killed during the course of the war, including wives and children. An 1818 law further expanded the pool of eligible veterans to include all those with demonstrated financial need, essentially guaranteeing a lifetime pension for all who served in the armed forces.
Veteran disability benefits were further expanded during the Civil War by legislation passed in 1862. After the war’s completion, only those soldiers who had served in the Union forces, as well as their dependents, were eligible to receive these benefits, though a 1958 law would eventually allow Confederate veterans and their dependants to similarly receive any benefits to which they would otherwise have been entitled. The end of the Civil War also saw a dramatic increase in the medical care available to veterans.
In the 20th century, legislation such as the G.I. bill and subsequent acts substantially increased the amount and types of benefits veterans could expect to receive, including guarantees of home mortgages and payments for college tuitions.