|The Disability Act of June 27, 1890
U. S. Statutes
The Disability Act of 1890
It instituted a pension for disabilities even if their origin was unrelated to war. The service-based pension system
coexisted with the disability-based system after 1890.
The pension was provided based on proof of at least ninety days of military service in the Civil War, of having been
honorably discharged, and of the existence of a bodily disability not caused by vicious habits but not necessarily of
The Act of 1890 also gave benefits to more widows and dependents. After 1890, the widows of those who served 90
days or more in the Civil War were entitled to be pensioned at the rate of $8 per month (also different from the rate
received by widows under the General Law), without regard to the cause of the soldier's death. Before that date, a
widow was only eligible for a pension if she could prove that her husband's death was war-related.
The 1890 Act was a service-based pension system, setting forth new requirements related to
length of military service and expanding eligibility to include physical and mental disabilities not related to wartime
experience and regardless of origin. The definition of disability in the 1890 Act, as in earlier laws, was based largely on
an individual’s incapacitation in the performance of labor. The 1890 Act, however, did not require the claimed disability
to be related to military service, as long as it was not the product of “vicious habits or gross carelessness.” In addition to
incapacitation, subsequent modifications to the 1890 Act provided compensation to veterans who required periodic
personal aid or the attendance of another person.
Increase in Number of Pensioners under the 1890 Act
The number of pensioners increased from 300,000 in 1885, to 1 million in 1893, consuming 42% of the federal
government’s income. The growth in the system after 1890 led to new claims in the press of excess, fraud, and
corruption. Pension awards increasingly were portrayed publicly as windfall payments to “undeserving” individuals who
exaggerated their disabilities. Impairments that were “different,” less visible, or less understood at the time, such as
those related to mental conditions, were the subject of particular criticism.
Interpretations of 1890 Act
The first was described in order 164 issued by Commissioner Green B. Raum on October 15, 1890. According to this
order, veterans with disabilities rated under $12 per month, should be rated the same as if their disabilities were of
service origin, at $12 or above the rate should be $12 per month. This rating method favored pensioners with minor
disabilities not of service origin, for example a pensioner with stiffness of a wrist would obtain the same monthly pension
($8 per month) for his disability under both systems, but if the veteran was totally blind he should receive only $12 per
month under the Disability Act, while the same disability would get $72 under the General Law system.