US Stamps

World War I war risk insurance available to soldiers and sailors

Aug 24, 2023, 11 AM
This postcard from a soldier with the American Expeditionary Forces in France has an official message asking servicemen to continue their subscription to war risk insurance until they have returned home and assessed whether they might still have a claim.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

War risk insurance is a program I was not aware of until finding the 1917 card mailed from France shown here.

A bit of research uncovered the fact that the War Risk Insurance Act was passed by Congress in 1914 and amended in 1917. This legislation established the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, which administered rules designed to provide compensation for the death or disability of a soldier or sailor in the line of duty.

The rules also extended the period to file for compensation, saying, “In case a man should discover after and within one year after separation from the service that he has sustained an injury or contracted disease in the line of duty when employed in active service which may result in disability or death, but which did not disable him and of which he had no knowledge at the time of separation from the service, he should communicate the fact immediately to the Compensation Section of the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. …”

In that circumstance, a claim could still be processed.

The system was funded by premiums that soldiers and sailors paid out of their monthly pay. The cost was based on age and the amount of coverage. For the full $10,000 of coverage, the cost ranged between $6 and $7 per month.

In the case of the death of a person holding a $10,000 policy, the government would pay the beneficiary monthly installments of $57.50 for 20 years, which, including interest on the account, totaled $13,800.

Of course, there were many specified rules and exceptions that we will not delve into here. But it does seem the government was trying to do the right thing, which brings us back to the illustrated postcard.

The printed message on the card reads: “General Pershing has asked us not to give up our War Risk Insurance, at least until we have returned to the U.S. and had full opportunity of studying the new form of Government contracts, to which the present contracts may be converted. I am going to do as General Pershing has asked.”

It seems like the postcard was one way of trying to assure that servicemen maintained access to benefits they had earned. And putting Pershing’s name behind the effort meant it was a serious program.

Also, the card was designed as a means for those serving abroad to inform their relatives in the United States why the deduction to their pay was still being made even though they might be leaving the war zone or were otherwise out of danger.

In this instance, the soldier was writing to his mother, and there is a long note on the other side (not shown) that has nothing to do with the war risk insurance program.

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