It is the largest bureau of the Department of the Interior, and its yearly business is enormous. It is a very difficult bureau to administer, as it is constantly assailed by thousands of dishonest people, whose ingenious trickery in the invention and substantiation of claims might deceive the shrewdest and most careful of officials. Bogus claims for pensions are so numerous that the proper claims are very much delayed in their settlement, in consequence 0f the great amount of time taken to detect the frauds. When it is considered that 510,938 claims were allowed from 1861 to 1883, and that during the time the prodigious sum of $621,073,297 was disbursed, the work of the office will be better appreciated. There are at present nearly 304,000 pensioners on the rolls, and every year the names of from 25,000 to 30,000 are added. Upwards of 275,000 claims are pending. The Commissioner of Pensions has a large working force, which is making all possible efforts to adjust the claims on file, but it must be necessarily many years before all the rightful claimants for pensions can receive what the government has directed to be paid. The claims are now taken up in regular order, and no favoritism is allowed in their consideration.
A careful estimate has been made by the pension office that there were no less than 2,063,391 persons who entered the army and navy during the Civil War. Of this number 304,369 died in battles, hospitals, or otherwise ; 285,545 were discharged for disability, and there were 128,352 deserters. On the 1st of May, 1865, the number in the service was over 1,000,000, and previous to that time 328,187 had been discharged on account of the expiration of their terms of enlistment. Of this vast host applications for pensions have been made by over 500,000 rendered invalids by the war, and nearly 300,000 applications also have been made by those representing deceased soldiers and sailors. At present, it is estimated, that there are about 86,000 of this class who have not yet presented claims, and that there are nearly 1,000,000 survivors of the war who have never made application for pensions that is, there is this soldier and sailor population in the United States out of which thousands of claims may come in the future.
It will be seen by these figures that the pension office has plenty of business on hand, and to come ; that it will require a large force of employes to attend to it, and the expenditure of hundreds of mil-lions during many future years to pay all the claims. The office annually disburses over $30,000,000 for pensions, and as much more for the arrears of pensions. All this money goes through the hands of the eighteen pension agents in various sections of the United States to the persons entitled to it. Each agent is assigned to a certain district comprising one or more states, or parts of states. They give bonds to the amount of $150,000, with justified security to the amount of $300,000, and are allowed salaries of $4,000 each. They are tried and trusty officials, and, although handling so many millions of the government money in the course of a year, their accounts are invariably exact to a dollar.
The pensions are from one dollar to one hundred dollars per month, the last-named sum, however, being drawn by only one pensioner. There are seven hundred and forty-five pensioners who draw seventy-two dollars per month, and four hundred and twenty-five who draw fifty dollars. Over seven thousand draw twenty-four dollars, and nearly thirteen thousand draw eighteen dollars. A great number draw from eight to fifteen dollars, and nearly forty-three thousand only four dollars. There are eighteen thousand who are paid only two dollars, and about sixteen hundred who have to be content with one dollar per month.
The pension office has twelve divisions, each in charge of a chief with a salary of $2,000. Twenty-two surgeons are employed, with salaries from $1,800 to $2,500, and there are forty-two principal examiners at $2,000 each, a number of other officials, and about fifteen hundred clerks and employes. The annual salary list of the office is $1,945,000.
The pension office formerly occupied a large brick building on Pennsylvania Avenue, corner of Twelfth Street, which was rented by the government, but early in 1885 it was removed to the new Pension Building which was recently completed on Judiciary Square, near G Street. The new building resembles the great Italian palaces, and has many unique forms of architecture. It is constructed of fine pressed brick with terra cotta mouldings, and extends 400 feet from east to west, and 200 feet from north to south, and the walls are seventy-five feet high. The walls surround a large interior court-yard, which has a high roof of iron and glass, and is crowned with a dome. Two tiers of galleries extend around the court-yard, by which access is gained to the rooms. On the first story there is a course of terra cotta extending entirely around the building, consisting of a band three feet wide, on which various scenes and incidents of a soldier’s life are represented in finely sculptured figures. The cost of the building is about $500,000.