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What does a nation owe its military veterans? Gratitude, esteem, land grants, medical care, pensions, higher education? Or is serving in the armed forces of one’s country an obligation to be undertaken without any expectation of compensation? If veterans are to receive government aid, should a distinction be made between those who served in wartime or faced enemy fire and those who saw neither war nor combat?
These questions have been answered in varying ways by the American people and their elected representatives since the Revolutionary War. Paid Patriotism? explores the genesis and growth of soldiers’ pensions throughout the nineteenth century, the Bonus experiment after the First World War, the passage and consequences of the GI Bill of Rights, the growth of the nation’s system of veterans’ hospitals, the evolution of veterans’ programs during the Cold War and Vietnam, the post-9/11 GI Bill, and contemporary scandals and reform efforts within the veterans’ bureaucracy, from its promotion to a cabinet department to wrongdoing in the Veterans Health Administration.
James T. Bennett examines the complex and politically charged history and heated present-day debate of what the late columnist William Safire called the “most sacred cow” in Washington: the veterans’ bureaucracy. In the end, the United States and its citizens owe veterans a debt. But how has and how should that debt be honored—and at what cost?