Rights and Privileges of American Servicemen:

Office of War Information Press Release May 1943

This Report on Rights and Privileges of American Servicemen is

ADVANCE RELEASE: For Sunday Papers, May 23, 1943. X-15728

Irvin-- 74411

Guarantees to American soldiers and sailors of rights and privileges which they are fighting to preserve were reviewed today by the Office of War Information. Acts of Congress pertaining to the welfare of the servicemen and their families, state laws and the program of the American Red Cross, provide:A serviceman's civil liabilities, such as income tax, suits for debts, and insurance premium payments, are suspended and remain suspended until six months after the war. Free legal advice is available to him.

His right to express preference at the ballot box on those who are to govern the Country, his State, and to make laws, is preserved inviolate.He is eligible for unemployment compensation in 44 States and Hawaii in the event he is unable to find employment on being discharged from the service. His former employer is required by law to reinstate him to his job and seniority rights upon discharge from the service. He will be given civil service preference in seeking employment with the National Government.

His concern over the health and other assistance and services which may be required by his wife, his children, his parent or parents, or his sisters, brothers, and grandchildren is alleviated through systems of insurance, allotments and allowances, quarter allowances and maternity and infant care. He may receive free medical and hospital care after the war. If wounded or injured he may be eligible for veterans pension commensurate with his degree of disability and to vocational rehabilitation and placement in employment. 


During the last war, it was found necessary to enact legislation to insure that the man suddenly thrust into uniform would not suffer because of obligations he had undertaken as a civilian or would not be at the mercy of creditors who might take advantage of his military absence. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Relief Act of 1940 was enacted on a similar pattern. There are provisions in this Act under the heading of "general relief" whereby court action detrimental to the interests of servicemen may be stayed for the duration, or deferred until the appointment by the court of an attorney to represent the defendant. A judgment rendered against a man in military service may, under appropriate conditions, be opened by such person for defense after his return to civilian life. The period of service, moreover, shall not count as elapse time under any statutes or regulations of limitation for any court proceedings involving the serviceman.

Another provision of the law prevents the hasty eviction of dependents under foreclosure or for unpaid rent; gives reasonable protection against the seizure of goods under installment purchase agreements; and protects insurance policyholders against untoward exercise of option by an assignee, such as surrendering for cash without the policyholder's consent. The act also provides for certain tax relief and prevents undefendable sales of taxes.

It further relaxes the general law as to homesteads and public lands applied to persons who enter the military service. The law in general prohibits interest charges on outstanding obligations of the servicemen in excess of 6 per cent per year. Various other measures for assistance, postponement, and additional relief are possible under this law.

Most servicemen in private life carried life insurance and the reduction in their earning power has made it difficult to continue payments on premiums. Article IV of the act establishes the rights and procedures in connection with commercial life insurance policies under which premiums fall due while the owner is in the  armed forces and for two years thereafter. If he is unable or does not wish to meet these premiums from his personal funds, or if he does not arrange for an allotment from his military pay for the purpose, he has the privilege of the benefits of Article IV. These benefits constitute a guarantee by the Veterans Administration that the insurance having a face value not exceeding $10,000 will be kept in force through an arrangement with that agency.

Servicemen must pay income tax, but collections are deferred for a period extending not more than six months following their discharge. A State or municipality may sell a serviceman's property for delinquent taxes or improvement assessments, but this may be prevented by the serviceman filing with the officer whose duty it is to enforce the collection of such taxes or assessments an affidavit showing certain facts. The court may stay such sale for a period extending not more than six months after the serviceman's discharge.

Free civil rights legal advice may be obtained from lawyer-members of the Selective Service Advisory Boards for Registrants and from local bar associations and the American Bar Associations, which have set up committees for this purpose.


The Congress has approved and the President has signed legislation providing for absentee voting by servicemen. The law applies to election of President, Vice President, members of Congress and also, if the law of a particular State permits, to election of State and local officials and to Presidential and Congressional primaries. The Act covers only persons duly qualified to register and vote under the law of the State of their residence who are absent on active duty with the Armed Forces. All States except Delaware, Kentucky and New Mexico permit absentee voting.


Workers in industry and commerce covered under the Federal-State Unemployment Compensation system on being inducted into the armed forces find themselves facing loss of unemployment compensation credits based on the wages earned during prior employment. A total of 44 States and Hawaii have taken steps to correct this by amending their laws preventing military service from destroying rights to benefits, and other States may do so before the war ends. Amendment to State laws for this purpose vary widely in detail, but their general objective is to assure upon discharge benefit rights at least as favorable as those existing prior to induction. In many States this restoration of status is not operative until the exhaustion of any federal allowances which may be provided for the period after discharge.


The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, as amended, under certain specific conditions provides that if a person is honorably released from active service in the Armed Forces and is still qualified to perform the duties of his old position and makes application therefor within forty days, his employer, including the Federal Government, must restore him to his former position or one of like seniority, status land pay.

The State Governments, although not legally bound, are generally adopting the same policy.Under the Act, the Selective Service System, which took the soldier or sailor out of civilian life, is charged with the responsibility of placing him back securely in it.

A Reemployment Division has been established to make sure that every man honorably discharged from active service either gets his old position back and keeps it; gets one just as good and keeps it; receives special training if necessary and physically handicapped; or is properly cared for if unemployable in competitive work and is qualified.

Each service man about to be discharged from active duty receives a notification explaining his obligations and rights and advising him to report to his Local Board or the Local Board of proper jurisdiction over his eventual destination and contact the Reemployment Committeeman assigned to it who will act as his special representative and will help him in getting a new start as a civilian.

The Committeemen do not assume the functions of but do act in liaison with the United States Employment Service, the Veterans' Administration, the Vocational and Rehabilitation Division of the Federal Security Agency, and the local Home Service offices of the American Red Cross, and assist the men in their proper referral if necessary and put them in contact with appropriate openings if possible.

National Clearing House Committees are being organized on the state and local level, composed of representatives from national and civic organizations including labor unions, the Grange, veterans organizations, Chambers of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and civic and social groups. These Committees will cooperate with the Reemployment Committeemen and all the other agencies to solve each discharged soldier's and. sailor's problem as a personal, individual, and community matter.


The initial base pay of the servicemen of all branches of the armed forces is now $50 a month. This is an increase of $20 a month over the wage a private or apprentice seaman (seventh grade) received prior to June 1, 1942. The American soldier or sailor does not receive the highest wage in the world. The base pay of an Australian private is $62.10.For overseas duty our servicemen receive a 20 per cent increase or $10 a month for privates, and other enlisted men and warrant officers according to grade.

A private first class or seaman second class (sixth grade) receives a base pay of $54; corporal or seaman first class (fifth grade), $66; sergeant or petty officer third class (fourth grade), $78; staff sergeant or petty officer second class (third grade), $96; first or technical sergeant or petty officer first class (second grade), $114; master sergeant or chief petty officer (first grade), $138.

A Congressional handbook under the title of "Handbook for Servicemen and Servicewomen of World War II and Their Dependents, including Rights and Benefits of Veterans of World War II and their Dependents," edited by Representative Wright Patman of Texas, explains that the increase in pay for American soldiers and sailors was granted to bring their wages up to the average civilian worker's wage.

Continuing, the handbook states:

"It was to equalize the pay of the man who fights with the man who works. This was not done in World War I and the servicemen simply asked that it be done after the war. The present pay increase is not a "bonus" but a fair and just equalization of pay with civilian defense workers."

The Labor Department's most recent figures on earnings of industrial workers show the average weekly pay of a worker in non-durable goods industries s $32.51; for manufacturing establishments, $41.12, and for durable goods Industries, $47.15.

Out of his weekly earnings the workers must pay rent, buy groceries, pay taxes, and insurance premiums, and purchase other necessities.

Representative Patman, assisted by government agencies, including the War and Navy Departments and the Veterans Administration, has estimated the annual earnings of an Army private at $1,700. A breakdown of this estimate follows:

Soldier's cash income $600.00
Food ($1.50 a day, civilian cost) 574.50
Barrack shelter ($10 a month)  120.00
Equipment and replacement  170.00
Medical, dental, and hospital care 100.00
Saved on life insurance 63.40
Saved on cigarettes 10.95
Saved on laundry 32.50
Saved on postage and barber bills 28.65
Total $1,700.00


Through enactment of the "Serviceman's Dependents Allowance Act of 1942," the Government has made an effort to help soldiers and sailors meet home-tie obligations. The Act's objective is to "provide family allowances for the dependents of enlisted the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard" throughout the war and for six months thereafter. With the increased wage scale and Government allowance, the average serviceman and his family now have an income greater than anything of this kind heretofore in effect for soldiers and sailors.

While it is not rigidly compulsory by law, a married serviceman is expected to allot $22 of his pay each month to his wife. The Government matches his allotment with a Class A allowance of $28 to his wife. An allowance is a grant provided from federal funds in addition to the serviceman's regular pay.

If they have one child the monthly allowance is $40, and an additional $10 for each additional child, or $20 to one child where there is no wife; $50 to two children where there is no wife and additional $10 for each additional child. An allowance up to $20 is granted to a former wife divorced, if alimony is being paid by court decree.

Qualifying dependents have the privilege of filing application if the serviceman is remiss or is unable to make application himself. A Class B allowance is granted when a serviceman makes a voluntary allotment for the support of his dependent parent or parents, brothers or sisters or grandchildren. In addition to the serviceman's contribution, the Government will contribute the following amounts to Class B dependents: $15 to one parent, and an additional $5 for each brother, sister or grandchild, the whole not to total more than $50; $25 to two parents, and an additional $5 for each brother, sister or grandchild up to $50; $5 to each brother, sister or grandchild, if there are no parents.


As the strength of the Army and Navy grew prior to and after the declaration of war, the need for medical and hospital care for wives and children of servicemen also increased. Records show that the proportion of all children born whose fathers are in military or naval service is already substantial and is on the increase.

In 28 States and the District of Columbia during three months last year, the number of birth certificates filed for children of servicemen ranged from 7.9 per cent in the District of Columbia to 2.1 per cent in South Dakota and Vermont. The Children's Bureau of the United States Labor Department said "it seems reasonable to expect that 5 per cent of the infants born in the United States in the year beginning July 1, 1942, will be babies of men in military service. On the basis of the number of expected births this would mean more than 140,000 babies whose fathers are servicemen."

Near many of the Army camps," the Children's Bureau explains, "the problem of financing care for soldiers' families, is serious. Wives who are not legal residents are not eligible for whatever community services may be open to residents. It is feasible for a wife to return to her home town for confinement, private funds are sometimes available, usually through the Red Cross, for helping her to get home; but the number of cases has grown so large that private funds are proving insufficient meet the expense of medical and hospital care.

The medical and hospital care for servicemen's families usually provided by the Army in peacetime has now been discontinued in many cases.For wives and children not living near the camps there may also be difficulty in obtaining medical care. In many communities there is no public provision for maternity care or for medical care of children. Private funds are being used, of course, but in many places, especially in small communities and rural areas, they be depended on.

Requests for maternity care or for medical care for their children or both were received from 2,601 soldiers' and sailors' wives during August 1942, by 292 Red Cross chapters in 46 states, representing approximately one-tenth of the Red Cross chapters in the United States. In 2,016 cases, help was needed in obtaining maternity medical care; in 2,072, hospital maternity care; in 244, medical care for sick children; and in 122, hospital care for sick children. It can therefore estimated that more than 25,000 soldiers and sailors' wives are seeking assistance securing obstetric and pediatric care each month."

Under the Social Security Act, Federal funds are available for grants to States for maternal and child-health services under State plans approved by the Children's Bureau. The total amount appropriated for this purpose for each fiscal year is $5,820,000. The larger part of this can be used only in combination with State and local matching funds. But $1,980,000 is allotted on the basis of need and, for this, matching funds are not required.

Late last year, State health departments in 39 States had requested Federal funds amounting to more than $1,500,000 to provide obstetric and pediatric medical care and hospital care for the families of servicemen. On the average of $100 per family this would provide care for only about 15,000 families. To be approved, State plans must make care available irrespective of residence for women who state that the father of the child is in military service, when it is known that other resources are not available in the community to provide such care.

The continuation of these programs during the remainder of this fiscal year and the extension of similar plans to other states were assured by a supplemental appropriation of $1,200,000 by Congress. The Children's Bureau is requesting appropriations for the continuance of the programs during the next fiscal year.


If after treatment in a military or naval hospital, it is determined that a serviceman cannot be restored to service with the armed forces, and he requires further hospitalization, he is discharged from the service and transferred to a Veterans Hospital for further treatment. The Veterans' Administration has 93 such institutions, the largest group of modern fireproof hospitals in the world. There are 85,000 beds of all types.

The line of duty pensions are paid at the same basic rates as for service-connected compensations after the last war. For disability, they run from $10 a month to $100 for total disability. A combination of severe disabilities may entitle a veteran to as much as $250 per month.

Death benefits for the present war are from $50 to $38 a month for widows, according to age, with additional amounts for children, up to as much as $83 a month. Payments also may be made to a dependent parent or parents.

Widows' benefits are payable until death or remarriage; unmarried children's benefits until 18 years old, or 21 years old if they are attending school. If the child becomes helpless and permanently incapable of self-support before 18 years of age, the benefits are continued after that age. Burial benefits are also provided. There are provisions for the rehabilitation, prosthetic appliances, and other aids for the physical reestablishment of the injured man.


As in the last war, the Federal Government is now underwriting the extra-hazards caused by war by making National Service Life Insurance available to members of the armed forces. This insurance can be purchased by officers and men up to a $10, 000 maximum. It is a five-year term policy, with premiums payable by deduction from pay.

After carrying a policy for a year, a serviceman can convert it to one of three permanent forms -- ordinary life, 20-pay life, or 30-pay life. Beneficiary is confined to wife, child, parent or brother and sister. The terms provide for claim payment in monthly installments for 20 years if the beneficiary is under 30 years old at the time of the serviceman's death, or for life when the beneficiary is 30 years of age or over.

In the event of total disability of the insured for at least six months and prior to age 60, the policy provides for the waiver of premium payment during such disability, thereby keeping the insurance in force.

The monthly cost for the convertible term insurance for a 30-year old serviceman is about $7 for the maximum amount of $10,000.

An automatic extension of coverage has been effected by amendments whereby, in case of death, disability or capture occurring prior to April 20, 1942, the service members involved are presumed to have applied for policies of $5,000 if they did not already have that much Government insurance.

No physical examination is required if a serviceman applies for the insurance during his first 120 days in the armed forces.

A new law has been approved which permits a serviceman another 120 days from April 12, 1943, to apply for insurance without a medical examination and without medical history statement. This law expires August 10, 1943. He may take out $10,000 worth, if he is not carrying any, or if he has already taken out a lesser amount, he may increase his insurance to $10,000 worth by taking out an additional policy or policies.


With the passage of the allotment and allowance legislation, the American Red Cross Home Service was called upon to help men and families get the necessary documentary evidence and dependency information so they might receive the advantages of this law.

In aiding the servicemen at camp, the Home Service worker obtains for the Red Cross hospital social workers the social and family history upon which proper diagnosis and treatment may be based. In considering the granting of emergency furloughs, military authorities have the benefit of the Home Service workers report on home conditions.

To the disabled ex-serviceman and his family the Red Cross has a special responsibility. The Red Cross home chapter assists the veteran and his family in presenting their claims to the Veterans Administration for pensions, payment of government insurance, hospitalization and other benefits or allowances.Red Cross procedures in claims work are as follows: The Red Cross field director helps the disabled serviceman file his claim before he leaves his station.

The field director also refers the serviceman to his Red Cross home chapter for further help and notifies the chapter of the man's application. Upon his arrival home, the Red Cross is then prepared to expedite the claims by working directly with the Red Cross field director in the regional office of the Veterans Administration. Pending settlement, which frequently requires from two to three months, Home Service provides the disabled veteran and his family with such aid as is needed.

The War Department, in sending notifications of death, advises the next of kin to seek the assistance of their local Red Cross chapter in presenting their claims. As casualties increase, claims work will develop into one of the most active phases of Red Cross service to the armed forces. This service will be extremely helpful to the families of servicemen.The War Department also refers to the Red Cross those families who wish to apply for pay allotments when the man is missing, interned, captured or besieged.


Confidence that the Government will take steps to protect the social security rights of men in the armed services is growing.In a message to Congress, September 14, 1940, President Roosevelt recommended enactment of the necessary legislation incident to preserving insurance protection for servicemen under the Social Security Act.

The Social Security Board has urged measures to safeguard servicemen's insurance rights. Organized labor, including the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, are urging such protection as part of their current campaigns for expansion and liberalization of the social security system. And pending in Congress are a number of bills aimed at this general objective.

Steps have been taken by States to "freeze" the unemployment compensation status of covered workers entering the armed forces. No such action has been taken so far to protect such workers in their rights under the Federally operated old-age and survivors insurance system.Benefits under old-age and survivors insurance are geared to the worker's earnings in jobs covered by the system (most jobs in business and industry are covered).

What monthly benefits he receives at age 65 or what his widow and children receive if he dies before then depend on his average wage or salary from covered jobs and the number of years he worked in covered employment, since 1936 (or since he was 21). Any period of time in which he has not worked in covered employment thus lowers his average wage and his ultimate benefits, and may result in the loss of his right to any benefits.

A number of suggestions have been made for protecting the social insurance rights of the millions of workers who have come into the armed forces from commerce and industry. In general the plans have narrowed down to two alternatives: either 1) the status of the worker would be "frozen" as of the time he entered the service, and he would have the same rights when he returned to private life; or (2) his service would be considered as "covered employment" so that he would have full protection and build up benefit rights while in the armed forces.

Besides the Congressional handbook, which is now being revised, other pamphlets on the rights and privileges of servicemen include the War Department's "Personal Affairs of Military Personnel and Aid for their Dependents"; "Selective Service in Peacetime" compiled by the Selective Service System; War Department's "Monthly Allowance for the Dependents of Soldiers"; OWI's "State Absentee Voting and Registration Laws"; War Department's "Service for the American Soldier"; American Red Cross' "Services to the Armed Forces", and the American Legion's Serviceman's handbook.

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