Veterans' Benefits: World War II Merchant Mariners Potentially Eligible

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-08-18.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Offhze
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Health, Education   and Human Services Division

      August 18, 1997
      The Honorable Lane Evans
      Ranking Minority Member
      Committee on Veterans’Affairs
      House of Representatives

      Subject:       Veterans’ Benefits: World War II Merchant Mariners Potentiallv
      Dear Mr. Evans:
      Currently, 86,600mariners who served on the high seasbetween December 7,
      1941,and August 16, 1946,(VJ Day) are considered“veterans” for purposes.of
      programs and benefits administeredby the Department of VeteransAffairs (VA).
      The Merchant Mariners FairnessAct of 1997,H.R. 1126,proposes to allow all
      merchant mariners who servedon the high seasat any time during the period
      recognized by the Department as World War II, namely from December 7, 1941,
      through December 31, 1946,and meet certain other criteria to be considered
      eligible for veterans’ benefits.’
      In 1992,the Coast Guard estimatedthat 60,000new applications and amended
      Certificates of Discharge would have to be processedif eligibility were
      extended to these mariners.2 The Coast Guard further estianatedthat 3,000 of

      ‘In addition to serving on the high seas,a mariner must have been licensed or
      otherwise documented by the United States,as well as served on a U.S. flag
      vessel that was under contract to, chartered by, or owned by the United States
      and serving the armed forces.
      2Statementof Captain John T. McGowanbefore the Subcommittee on
      Compensation,Pension, and Insurance,House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,
      in response to the Merchant Mariners FairnessAct of 1991,H.R. 44. This
      earlier bill contained a comparableprovision extending eligibility to this target
                                                   World War II Merchant Mariners
those 60,000merchant mariners would qualify for veteran status. Five years
later, however, when the CongressionalBudget Office (CBO) projected the cost
impact of the Merchant Mariners FairnessAct of 1997,the Coast Guard
estimatedthat 60,000additional former merchant mariners would qurrlify for
veterans’ benefits.
Becauseof these differing estimates,you asked us to estimate (1) the number
of mariners who servedduring the entire period of World War II and (2) the
number of potential beneficiariesof this legislation if veteran status were
extended to former mariners who served from August 16, 1946,through
December31, 1946. As discussedwith your office, CBO will use our estimates
and standardmortality tables to derive the number of surviving former mariners
and estimate the number of these who will apply for veteran status?
To addressthese questions,we talked to officials in the Coast Guard and
Merchant Marine as well as staff working in the National Archives to obtain
information on record keeping practices and administrative procedures of the
agenciesduring the period in question.
We sampled9,400archived files at the Federal Records Center in Suitland,
Maryland, of merchant mariners who were issued Merchant Mariners’        .
Documents (MMD) from 1937on.4 We could not, however, identify IYom these
files former mariners who might be deceased. Nor could we readily determine
if all seamenin our samplewho received MMDs actuaRyserved in the merchant
marine or, if they served,whether they were on vesselson the high seasrather
than on inland waterways.

group of former merchant mariners.
3Accordingto the Coast Guard, some surviving spouses,children, and
grandchildren of deceasedmerchant mariners would probably apply in the
mariner’s name for Certificates of Dischargefrom Active Duty. The certificates
would then be presentedto VA to determine what benefits the survivors are
entitled to. For this reason,the Coast Guard believes that the use of mortality
tables probably underestimatesthe number of people who would apply for
veteran status.
4Peoplewho obtained MMDs in 1937(the first tie these documents, also
known as “Z” numbers, were issued) may have served at the start of World War
                          GAOIHEHS-97-196RWorld War II Merchant Mariners
On the basis of our sample,we estimate that 340,200merchant mariners were
issued MMDs between January 1, 1937,and December31, 1946.6We further
estimate that of that number 102,400were issued MMDs between August 16,
1946,and December 31, 1946,and might be eligible for consideration if veteran
status were extended to the target group.’
Coast Guard officials reviewed a draft of this correspondence,and their
comments have been incorporated where appropriate.
As agreed with your office, we will make copies of this letter available to other
interested parties. Should you or your staff have any questions,please call
Cynthia Fagnoni, Acting Associate Director, at (202) 612-7101or me. Connie D.
Wilson, Sibyl Tilson, John Erstein, and WayneDow also contributed to this
Sincerely yours,

Stephen P. Backhus, Director
Veterans’ Affairs and Military Health Care Issues


6At the 96-percent confidence level, we estimate that 940,200former merchant
mariners (plus or minus 67,880)were issued MMDs between these dates. The
Coast Guard estimatesthat 260,000mariners actually served in the Merchant
Marine during World War II through August 16, 1946.
‘At the 96percent confidence level, we estimate that 102,400former merchant
mariners (plus or minus 4,460) were issued MMDs between these dates.
3                         GAO/HEHS-97-196RWorld War II Merchant Mariners
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