What You Need To Know About The Bonus Army

According to CNBC, the Department of Veterans Affairs "has been plagued with problems for years." Inadequate medical attention, an extensive backlog of unpaid benefits claims, excessive and ineffectual spending, and a laundry list of interim directors, none of whom could seem hold down the gig, seem to be perennial problems for the agency. The author of the piece wrote that "it hasn't always been this way," but the members of the Bonus Army may have told it differently.

The Bonus Army was a protest held by as many as 25,000 veterans of World War I and their families who descended upon Washington, D.C. in 1932 to demand the bonus checks they'd been promised in order to help them get through the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. Congress had approved the veterans' Adjusted Compensation certificates, i.e., bonuses, in 1924, but it apparently needed time to save up its pennies, for the payout wasn't planned until 1945! It appears that Congress has been avoiding its responsibility to those who fought for freedom for much longer than we'd all like to admit.

The 'worst public disorder' in D.C. in years

"I might as well starve there as here," WWI veteran and Bonus Army protestor William Hushka told Time magazine in 1932. A Lithuanian immigrant, Hushka had served the United States in the war and become a naturalized citizen as a result, but after the war, when it came time for the Land of Opportunity to live up to its name, it unfortunately fell far short. He was unable to find steady work, his wife divorced him and took their daughter with her, and the government that promised that it would take care of him for defending freedom said it wasn't going to do so for another two decades.

But Hushka didn't starve. He was shot and killed at the protest by the police of the very country for which he went to fight in what Time called "the worst public disorder the capital has known in years." Despite their service in the war, Time and other outlets were very sympathetic to the state, and not the Bonus Army vets who were only demanding what they'd already been promised. So, should we really be surprised when D.C. protestors are dispersed with tear gas even in 2020? As history reveals to us, it's nothing new. The U.S. has and will continue to respond to perceived threats with violence, even when the object of that violence is someone who already put their life on the line for it.