As early as 1792 pension matters were being handled by the War Department. In that year the Federal Government's first general pension act was passed. From 1793 to 1803 final action upon pension claims was taken by Congress, and from 1803 until 1849 power to take such action was vested in the Secretary of War, although between 1828 and 1835 certain types of claims were adjudicated by the Secretary of the Treasury. By 1833 a pension office had grown up in the War Department, and in that year Congress authorized the appointment of a Commissioner of Pensions to perform, under the Secretary of War, duties in relation to various pension laws. In 1840 the pension work previously transacted in the Navy Department was transferred to the Office of the Commissioner of Pensions, and the Commissioner thereafter functioned under the joint direction of the Secretaries of War and the Navy. When the Department of the Interior was established by an act of March 3, 1849, the Office of the Commissioner of Pensions was transferred to that Department, where it came to be known as the Bureau of Pensions. The Bureau continued in the Department of the Interior until 1930, when an act of July 3 authorized the President to consolidate and coordinate governmental activities and agencies affecting veterans. In accordance with this act, the President by Executive order of July 21, 1930, consolidated the Bureau of Pensions, the Veteran's Bureau, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to form the Veterans' Administration. The Bureau of Pensions continued to function as part of the Veteran's Administration until July 1, 1931. Thereafter it was known as the Pension Service until April 1, 1936, when it lost its identity as a distinct unit of the Veteran's Administration.
A Chief Clerk was first authorized for the Pension Bureau in 1853. An Assistant Chief Clerk was authorized in 1882. Among his duties the Chief Clerk exercised general supervision over all personnel matters until November 1889, when supervision of the appointment and promotion of employees was assigned to the newly created Appointment Division. Responsibility for the establishment of local boards of examining surgeons, formerly vested in the Medical Referee of the Bureau, was also assigned to the new Division. The Assistant Chief Clerk, however, continued to exercise supervisory control over all Bureau employees. The Appointment Division functioned until it was discontinued in 1914 and its duties were assumed by the Chief Clerk's office. When the Bureau of Pensions became a part of the Veteran's Administration in 1930, it continued to operate for a short time with little change in organization. At the time of the consolidation the Pension Bureau Library, which had been established in July 1910 as a unit supervised by the Chief Clerk, was assigned to the jurisdiction of the Solicitor of the Veteran's Administration. Otherwise, the Office of the Chief Clerk retained its identity until July 1931, when it was absorbed by the Office of the Executive Assistant to the Administrator in the Veterans' Administration. When the Pension Bureau became the Pension Service in July 1931, the Library, was transferred to the Office of the Director of that Service.
The records described in this inventory are fragmentary but they comprise all the administrative records now identifiable as records of the Bureau of Pensions and the Pension Service. Except for two series noted below, the records described are records of the Office of the Chief Clerk of the Bureau of Pensions. Most of them are materials that were acquired by the Pension Bureau Library. Records concerning personnel administration by the Chief Clerk (described in entries 24-27, 31-36, and 38-39) were transferred to the Personnel Division in the Veterans' Administration and were sent to the National Archives along with the records of the Pension Bureau Library. Two series of records-- a register relating to personnel, maintained by the Finance Division of the Pension Bureau (entry 37) and correspondence of the Chief Surgeon of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which became the Bureau of National Homes in the Veteran's Administration (entry 45)-- were transferred from the Personnel Division of the Veteran's Administration to the National Archives along with the Chief Clerk's administrative personnel records.
The records covered by this inventory have been rearranged as far as possible by subject in order that they may be more easily used for reference purposes. Under each subject they are in general arranged in the order of the importance of the offices that created them. Thus, the records of the Secretary of the Interior, the records of the Commissioner of Pensions, and the records of the Chief Clerk are listed in that order. As the inventory progresses, however, increasingly heterogeneous and unrelated records are listed, and toward the end the items bear little or no subject relationship to each other.
Other records of the Veterans' Administration (Record Group 15) bearing upon those described in this inventory are files relating to claims for pension and bounty land based on service rendered between 1775 and 1917; administrative records, sample case files, and the "Historical Register" of the New York State Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, Bath, N.Y.; and sample case files and "Historical Registers" of the branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers; case files and administrative records concerning the supplying of artificial limbs, other prosthetic appliances, and trusses; special 1890 census schedules listing veterans and widows of veterans who served in the Union forces during the Civil War; and roll books of pension agencies and pension award cards showing payments to pensioners.
Other record groups in the National Archives contain related records. Records concerning payments made to pensioners are included in Record Group 217, Records of the General Accounting Office. In the records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior (in Record Group 48) is correspondence of the Secretary of the Interior concerning his supervision of the affairs of the Bureau of Pensions. These records include papers on many appeals to the Secretary of the Interior that were made from decisions of the Commissioner of Pensions, with records of the action taken by the Secretary on such appeals. Among the records of the General Land Office (in Record Group 49) are original bounty-land warrants issued to veterans under mr bounty-land acts. The records of the Office of The Adjutant General in the National Archives (in Record Group 94) include records of Civil War mr hospitals and records relating to service rendered between 1775 and 1912, although the records for the Revolutionary War period are fragmentary. Records pertaining to naval and marine service are included in records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (in Record Group 24), the Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library (Record Group 45) and records of the United States Marine Corps (in Record Group 127).
Preliminary checklists or inventories are available in the National Archives concerning the following records mentioned above: (1) records relating to claims for pensions made between 1861 and 1942, (2) administrative records and case files of the New York State Soldiers' and Sailors' Home, Bath, N.Y., (3) records relating to the supplying of artificial limbs, other prosthetic devices, and trusses, (4) special schedules of the 1890 census enumerating Union veterans and widows of veterans of the Civil War, (5) records of the United States Marine Corps, and (6) the Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1775-1910. Two preliminary inventories published by the National Archives deal with records of the Adjutant General's Office and land-entry papers of the General Land Office.
Related records not in the National Archives are pension claim files in the Veteran's Administration, chiefly active but a few inactive, 1861 to date; and certain general administrative records of the Veterans' Administration, 1930 to date. Records of the War Department pertaining to mr pensions and bounty lands prior to 1800 were apparently destroyed in a fire of that year.
The present work is a preliminary inventory of the materials of subgroup D, "Personnel Records," and subgroup J, "General Records," in Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans' Administration, that had been transferred to the National Archives by March 1953. They amount to 76 cubic feet.