"A more effectual provision": upper Canada's pension legislation for disabled veterans of the War of 1812.
Two hundred years ago last month, on March 22,1816, a new pension legislation specifically aimed at disabled veterans for the War of 1812, and their families, was put into effect. This was followed, in April of 1817, with an amendment that better defined the categories of veterans permitted to apply for a disability pension as well as specific categories of injuries.
This was not the first pension scheme for disabled veterans in the province. Yet, in the words of the new law's own text, it was found that prior legislation was "not found to be sufficient to answer the benevolent purposes for which they were intended" and that the new legislation was aimed at providing "a more effectual provision." The new law's preamble also made the frank admission that "much delay and inconvenience have been experienced by individuals entitled to Pensions."
Upon reading the War of 1812 pension legislation, Sean Bruyea, an authority on more recent veteran legislation, observes that "the importance of government validating the harm bureaucracy has had upon veterans and their families cannot be overstated. When Canada fails to care for the injured in an expeditious and effective manner, veterans need to hear such statements of culpability and responsibility, or they endure greater suffering than necessary."
It remains for further research to determine just how effectively, or honestly, the 1816 legislation was implemented. But what the historian can find from the text of the legislation is the regulatory and legal framework upon which War of 1812 disability pensions were granted.
In terms of who was eligible for compensation, the 1816 legislation only made reference to "Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Private Militia-man, or Teamster?" However, the 1817 amendment noticeably expanded the scope of who was eligible for disability payment with the eligible categories including "Militia-Officer, Non-Commissioned Officer or Private Militia-Man acting as Provincial Artillery Driver or in the Colored Corps, or employed with Indians or Teamsters."
For both the 1816 and 1817 legislation, the criteria that qualified one for a disability pension was "being incapable of performing hard labor." Clearly, a much more subjective criteria reflective of the degree of medical knowledge at the time. However, the 1817 amendment did specifically state that the loss of an eye could entitle one to receive a pension provided that the veteran's commanding officer affirmed that the eye was lost in the performance of their duties.
Those familiar with today's long-overdue recognition of service-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might find it sarcastically amusing that, almost 200 years ago, the 1817 amendment brought in special provision for those in the veteran community suffering from "mental derangement or imbecility" which could prevent the applicant from going through the required application process. In such cases, the law allowed a designated guardian or trustee to complete an affidavit stating that they were entitled to the pension. According to the word of the law, provided that all provisions were met, such "would be sufficient authority to the Agent to pay such pensions." Such "streamlined processes," Sean Bruyea explains, "are key to treating veterans, especially the most disabled, with dignity and respect."
In 1816-17, the single pension criteria of "being incapable of performing hard labor" had a corresponding single standard payment of 20 pounds per year paid in equal biannual installments. This amount applied to both disabled veterans themselves as well as the families of soldiers killed as a result of their wartime service.
"Providing the same amount to the disabled veteran or widow, regardless of rank, was enlightened for its time," Bruyea adds. "Twenty pounds equates to today's Pension Act payments as both equal about half the average household salary of their times, but today's widows have their pensions reduced unlike those in the 19th century."
Should a service man have died in the performance of his duties or, according to the legislation, "may hereafter die in consequence of any illness or disease contracted or that may hereafter be contracted while on or performing any duty on actual Service" then the Widow or children of the deceased veteran were also entitled to apply for the 20 pounds a year pension.
The "bureaucracy," for lack of a better term, tasked with implementing the legislation consisted of government-appointed surgeons, agents, as well as the commanding officers of the province's militia who were to review and attest to the validity of disability claims. And, compared to the traumatic, labyrinthine application process that many of today's veterans have to go through, the 1816-17 legislation, at face value, comes across as refreshingly simple and matter-of-fact.
In the case of widows and children of deceased War of 1812 veterans, who may have died subsequent to the war as a result of their service, the application for pension support on behalf of their survivors was reviewed by a permanent board appointed by the lieutenant governor of the province. This board was to consist of militia officers representing the county, district, or riding where the deceased service man had been living at the time he contracted the service-related Illness or disease.
In order to determine that the War of 1812 veteran was indeed "incapable of hard labor," the government was authorized to appoint surgeons in each district of the province to examine those veterans claiming service-related disability. The fee for the appointed surgeon was set at a maximum of 5 shillings and had to be paid by the pension applicant or those acting on their behalf. Finally, acceptance on the Pension List required that both the surgeon and the commanding officer of the disabled veteran had to make the following written declarations:
"I,--Senior Officer of the Line or first regiment of Militia (as the case may be) do hereby Certify, that--was wounded in action with the Enemy, on the--day of--. " "I,--Surgeon, do hereby certify that I have carefully examined--of--late an Officer, (as the case may be) in the Regiment of Militia and that in consequence of being Wounded, the said --is incapable of hard labor."
Or in the case of deceased veteran:
"I,--Senior Officer of the Line, or--Regiment of--Militia, (as the case may be) do hereby Certify that--was killed in action on the--day of--or wounded and died in consequence, and that--is the widow of --."
Payment of the pensions was in the hands of a general agent appointed for the purpose by the province. Perhaps as a method of public accountability, those deemed qualified to receive disability pensions had to have their names published in a Pension List that was available to the public. It was the responsibility of the general agent to have a notice published in all the newspapers of the province declaring the total amount of money advanced to him as well as a list of qualified recipients.
With respect to pensions, the commanding officers of militia units were responsible, twice a year, to forward to the province's adjutant general a return of all individuals entitled to pensions within their unit's geographical area. Failure on the part of the local militia's commanding officer to provide these biannual returns carried a 200-pound fine, half of which could be claimed in court by the veteran whose return was not submitted.
Sean Bruyea, who has had his own battles with today's public service, points out that "holding bureaucrats accountable for failure to perform their duty no longer exists. Public service officials have written today's laws for veterans' benefits in such a manner that both protects the officials from personal responsibility. Meanwhile, veterans are prevented from being compensated for the additional suffering for such public service incompetence." Bruyea adds, "Canada did many things right for veterans in the past. Ottawa and Charlottetown need to relearn these valuable lessons from our own history."
Caption: Following the War of 1812, a pension scheme was established for disabled veterans as well as for their widows and children. ABOVE RIGHT: List of widows and orphans from 1816 of militiamen from Upper Canada (Ontario) who died on service. /As many as 11,000 Ontario men saw service during the War of 1812 and more than 200 died while in service. OPPOSITE PAGE: An example of the horrendus wounds recieved by soldiers during the War of 1812. The deadly effects of cannon fire and heavy lead musket balls often left men dead from the gangrene infection that almost always set in. (arm carried off by a cannon shot by sir
CHARLES BELL, ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS MUSEUM, LONDON, ENGLAND)
Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Publication:||Esprit de Corps|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2016|
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