Brigham Young University Study Finds Black Civil War Veterans Were Discriminated Against in Pension Disability Payments

Researchers at Brigham Young University pored over the medical records of 179,000 African-American veterans of the Union Army during the Civil War at the National Archives. In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers report that in the immediate post-Civil War years, the U.S. Pension Bureau approved 77 percent of the applications for benefits submitted by wounded black veterans. This was just slightly below the approval rate for white veterans seeking benefits.

In the 1880s a major expansion of the pension benefits program allowed veterans to receive disability payments for chronic injuries such as back pain, arthritis, or varicose veins that were not related to combat wounds. However, the BYU researchers found that black veterans’ applications for this type of disability payment were approved at less than one half the rate for white veterans. While racial discrimination undoubtedly played a role, it is believed that poor, or nonexistent, medical records of black veterans made it difficult for them to prove their ailments were the result of activity during the war.