Military Insurance for MIlitia Soldiers, Civil Defence and Civilian Service

The introduction of a health and accident insurance failed at the ballot box in 1900. Yet, one year later the federal Assembly passed the uncontested part of the bill separately – military insurance, Switzerland’s first separate social insurance. Over the course of more than a century, the benefits provided by military insurance have been steadily expanded, as have those who are eligible.

Those serving in the military are more exposed to risks such as accidents, illnesses or death. In case of permanent health damage, it may often be difficult or even impossible to continue to earn a living. Consequently, the dependents of disabled or deceased soldiers may likewise face destitution. In the context of military national defense, soldiers are considered to serve a highly symbolic duty to the country. The state feels particularly responsible for the fate of its soldiers. Since the early modern period, soldiers and members of the armed forces in most European countries have therefore been some the most socio-politically privileged servants of the state. For instance, they were among the first to benefit from old age pensions and disability pensions. Switzerland held itself generally responsible for the wellbeing of its physically injured soldiers too, just like the foreign states who hired Swiss mercenaries. All compensations thus served to alleviate soldiers' immediate needs.

The short-lived Helvetic Republic (1798-1803) passed the country’s first national regulation in this domain and adopted a welfare act for injured soldiers and their survivors. During the Restoration, the Swiss Diet created a war fund financed by the cantons, which was used for the first time in the Sonderbund War. The federal constitutions of 1848 and 1874 granted members of the army a right to damages. On this basis, the Confederation set up a corresponding pension system. However, the support benefits remained modest and were tied to the actual need of those affected according to means tests. From 1874, the Confederation granted injured soldiers the right to free medical treatment and board until they were fit to work again.

In order to raise the modest level of the welfare benefits and enable injured soldiers to continue to enjoy their previous standard of living, the Confederation, at the initiative of soldiers, entered into a contract with the Zurich insurance company from 1887 to 1895. This agreement insured a portion of the troops against accident. It also envisioned some loss of income compensation in the event of damage. The Confederation began to provide this accident insurance under its own management in 1895, despite the lack of a legal basis.

One of the problems surrounding military insurance initially concerned the strictly limited duration of coverage. The insurance did not protect against pre-existing conditions that worsened during military service. This limitation made sense in the original legislative bill, since military insurance was accompanied by a civil health and accident insurance as part of Lex Forrer. The Federal Council and Parliament addressed the issue of the duration of insurance coverage during the First World War. The subsequent full revisions (1949 and 1992) and partial revisions (1958 and 1963) ushered in a range of benefit expansions, including the equal treatment of army service personnel in the case of illness. According to the act of 1901, soldiers were insured against illness and accident or only against accident depending on the troop and activity. In addition, compensation payments were introduced for injured soldiers and the dependents of those who had died in active service.

At the beginning of the 20th century, only army members benefited from military insurance. It was later expanded to other groups: civil defense members (1967), participants of the sports promotion scheme ‘Jugend+Sport’ (1972-1993), participants of peace-building activities abroad and of the catastrophe relief corps (1994), as well as persons accomplishing civilian service (1996).

In contrast to civilian accident insurance and Suva, military insurance did not receive an autonomous administrative organization. Administrative responsibility fell to the ‘Military Insurance Department’ in the Federal Military Department. The department became the ‘Federal Office for Military Insurance’ in 1979. Once the health and accident insurance act of 1912 was adopted, the question was raised as to whether the military and civilian insurance systems should be combined into one, as previously envisaged in Lex Forrer. This did not come to pass, as the benefits systems were too disparate. Almost a century later in 2005, Suva finally took over the administration of military insurance, although it remained an independent branch of social insurance. Furthermore, military insurance operated its own sanatoriums and infirmaries in Arosa, Montana, Davos, Ragaz and Novaggio for rehabilitating sick soldiers in general, and tuberculosis patients in particular. However, the administration of military insurance became the subject of criticism especially during the Second World War, as it was inadequately equipped for the increase in beneficiaries brought about by the mobilization of large troop contingents. 

Military insurance is considered to be Switzerland's first social insurance scheme. It introduced the principle of insurance, not welfare, for ill and injured soldiers. From a purely technical standpoint, however, it cannot be called an insurance scheme since it neither collects premiums nor applies any actuarial risk calculations. Even the gratuity payments introduced later for immaterial damages were different from those granted by other comparable social insurance programs. The Confederation guaranteed the funding of military insurance; it thus assumed its responsibility for injured and ill members of the army, civilian service and civil defense.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Militärversicherungs-Schriftenreihe, 1, 1976 u. 2, 1979; Jmmer Werner A. (1921), Die Entwicklung der schweizerischen Militärinvaliden- und Militärhinterbliebenenfürsorge, Säckingen; Maeschi Jürg (2000), Kommentar zum Bundesgesetz über die Militärversicherung (MVG) vom 19. Juni 1992, Bern; Morgenthaler W. (1939), Militärversicherung, in Handbuch der schweizerischen Volkswirtschaft, 179-80, Bern.