19. JUSTICE IS NOT A GI BENEFIT
Thousands of Americans have discovered there is a hollow ring to the
nation's pledge of " ... liberty and justice for all." An
anachronistic "Catch 22" legal system dating back to the Civil
War has kept the military above the law and denied justice to our veterans
and their families.
In 1911, the Supreme Court pronounced "The courts are not the
only instrumentalities of government. They cannot command or regulate
In 1946, some thought the military's judicial autonomy would change
with the Federal Tort Claims Act. It allowed citizens, for the first
time, to sue the Federal Government for personal injuries caused by
the government. However, the courts chose to exclude members of the
armed forces from coverage. This broad military exception was established
by the Supreme Court in 1950 when it decided Feres v. United States.
The court said the Tort Claims Act did not give military personnel the
right to sue the government for admittedly negligent acts which occurred
on active duty.
For more than 30 years, the courts, following Feres, have denied veterans
access to the judicial system. (Prisoners in Federal penitentiaries
have a right to sue the government under the same law which veterans
are excluded from using.)
Equally disturbing, in a more recent Federal court ruling, which extended
the Feres rule, the court barred suits by veterans' wives and children
for their own health problems resulting from alleged military negligence.
By law, the Veterans Administration, the target of many suits, is the
only major Federal agency whose decisions cannot be reviewed in court.
Compounding the veterans' legal access problems is a statutory relic
passed after the Civil War which makes it a criminal violation for a
lawyer to accept a fee of more than $10 for representing a veteran's
As a result of all this, thousands of American veterans who share a
history of involuntary and uninformed participation in dangerous experiments
-- including those who were ordered to participate in the above-ground
nuclear tests in the 1950s and the Vietnam veterans who were exposed
to the hazardous Agent Orange defoliant -- have virtually no right to
sue the Government for health care or compensation even if they can
prove their health problems were caused by military negligence.
The failure of the media to expose how justice is being denied our
veterans qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best
censored" stories of 1981.
Progressive, 8/81, "Justice is Not a GI Benefit" by Lewis