Monday, June 16, 2014
GI Bill Marks 70th Anniversary As Its Impact Continues
June 22 marks the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill.
“It is important to remember this bit of history because the original GI Bill was one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed by Congress in the 20th century, and the American Legion had a major hand it in,” noted Kenneth Governor, commander of the American Legion Department of New York.
Called the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill was not just a postwar benefit for veterans and their families. “As National Commander Dan Dellinger likes to put it,” Governor said, ” ‘it changed the course of U.S. history and stimulated a global economy’.”
Harry W. Colmery, a former national commander of the American Legion, drew up the first draft of the GI Bill, Governor noted. It was introduced in the House on Jan. 10, 1944, and in the Senate the following day. Both chambers approved their own versions of the bill.
But the struggle was just heating up. The bill almost died when Senate and House members came together to debate their versions. Both groups agreed on the education and home loan benefits, but were deadlocked on the unemployment provision.
Ultimately, the Senate approved the final form of the bill on June 12, and the House followed on June 13. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.
The Veterans Administration (VA) was responsible for carrying out the law’s key provisions — education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay.
“Before the war, college and homeownership were largely just dreams for the average American,” Governor noted. “Thanks to the GI Bill, millions who would have otherwise flooded the job market instead opted for education.”
VA statistics tell the story, he said. In the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II Veterans had participated in an education or training program.
Millions also took advantage of the GI Bill’s home loan guaranty. From 1944 to 1952, VA backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans.
While Veterans embraced the education and home loan benefits, few collected on one of the bill’s most controversial provisions — the unemployment pay. Less than 20 percent of funds set aside for this were used.
In 1984, former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery revamped the GI Bill, which has been known as the “Montgomery GI Bill” ever since, assuring that the legacy of the original GI Bill lives on, as VA home loan guaranty and education programs continue to work for our newest generation of combat veterans.
In 2008, the GI Bill was updated once again. The new law gives veterans with active duty service on, or after, Sept. 11 2001, enhanced educational benefits that cover more educational expenses, provide a living allowance, money for books and the ability to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.
Added Governor: “Upon signing the original GI Bill, President Roosevelt noted that the legislation provided special benefits that are due to the members of our armed forces — for they, he said, “have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems.”