The Splendid Isolation Revisited: Lessons from the History of Veterans Benefits Before Judicial Review

Veterans L. Rev., Vol. 3, No. 135, 2011

85 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2010 Last revised: 15 Feb 2011

See all articles by James D. Ridgway

James D. Ridgway

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: April 30, 2010


The history of warfare is grittier and more complex than that portrayed by the jingoistic news reels of old. So too, the history of veterans benefits is much more checkered and conflicted than might be suggested by slogans welcoming home the nation’s heroes. Understanding the history and origins of a complex administrative area such as veterans law is vitally important to good practice and thoughtful scholarship. However, because attorneys were not involved in the system for generations while it evolved during two centuries without the oversight of judicial review, very few practitioners or scholars today have any direct experience with veterans benefits in the era before the creation of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in 1988 - or even access to someone with such experience. This lack of institutional memory can be a serious handicap because the Veterans Judicial Review Act did not reinvent the veterans benefits system, but merely placed an independent, federal court above a system with a long history of policy conflicts and a well established political dynamic. Although this article tells the story of veterans benefits in the United States chronologically from the Revolutionary War through the Agent Orange Act of 1991, each subsection has its own narrative and offers a lesson about the politics and policy that still drive veterans law today. Ultimately, veterans law continues to weigh competing policy justifications, search for the proper roles of readjustment and long-term benefits, and struggle with its deep ties to both politics and medicine.

Suggested Citation

Ridgway, James D., The Splendid Isolation Revisited: Lessons from the History of Veterans Benefits Before Judicial Review (April 30, 2010). Veterans L. Rev., Vol. 3, No. 135, 2011, Available at SSRN:

James D. Ridgway (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States


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