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GI Bill Turns 62 Today
Military.com  |  June 22, 2006
On June 22, 1944 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944," better known as the "GI Bill of Rights." At first the subject of intense debate and parliamentary maneuvering, the famed legislation for veterans of World War II has since been recognized as one of the most important acts of Congress.

During the past five decades, the law has made possible the investment of billions of dollars in education and training for millions of veterans, and the nation has in return earned many times investment in increased taxes and a dramatically changed society.

The law also made possible the loan of billions of dollars to purchase homes for millions of veterans, and helped to transform the majority of Americans from renters to homeowners.

An Uncertain Beginning

Though it became law in a fast-paced six months, many in Congress and educators at colleges and universities had serious misgivings. Some felt it was too expensive and would encourage sloth among veterans. Others feared veterans would lower standards in education.

But even greater was the pressure to pass something to offset dire economic predictions for the postwar years.

Many saw a postwar America faced with the loss of millions of jobs, creating unprecedented unemployment. A federal survey indicated that 56 percent of the nation's soldiers anticipated a widespread economic depression after the war.

As early as 1942, plans were being made to handle the anticipated postwar problems. The National Resources Planning Board, a White House agency, had studied postwar manpower needs and in June 1943 recommended a series of programs for education and training.

But it was the American Legion that is credited with designing the main features of the GI Bill and pushing it through Congress. The Legion overcame objections by other organizations that the proposed bill was too sweeping and could jeopardize veterans getting any help at all. At the time Congress already had failed to act on about 640 bills concerning veterans.

Members of the American Legion met first in Washington on Dec. 15, 1943, and by January 6 had completed the first draft of the GI Bill. The broad outlines were in the final law signed six months later. John Stelle, former governor of Illinois and a leader of the Legion, is generally credited with leading the Legion's efforts to get the GI Bill passed. Harry W. Colmery, a former Legion national commander and a former Republican National Chairman, is credited with drawing up the first draft of the bill that eventually became law.

The bill was introduced in the House on January 10 and in the Senate on the 11th. In the House it was sponsored by John Rankin and Edith Nourse Rogers, ranking Democrat and Republican of the veterans committee. It was introduced in the Senate by Bennett Champ Clark, a Legion founder and chairman of the Senate Veterans subcommittee.

The Legion led a nationwide campaign to win the bill's passage. In Washington, Legion members met with all members of Congress. Almost daily the Legion would send out telegrams to local Legion members, telling them which members of Congress were uncertain about or opposed to the legislation. This prompted a flood of letters and phone calls urging legislators to support the bill.

Passage came first in the Senate, on March 24, by a 50 to 0 vote. First the bill was bottled up in a House committee, but when it finally reached a vote on May 18, it passed 387 to 0.

But the struggle wasn't over. When a conference committee debated the difference in the Senate and House versions, the bill almost died. The Senate members agreed on one provision but the House delegation split 3-3 and the committee chairman refused to vote a sick member's authorized proxy. The bill was saved by rushing Rep. John Gibson from Georgia to cast his tie-breaking vote.

The Senate approved the final form of the bill on June 12, and the House followed on June 13. President Roosevelt made it law on June 22, signing it in the presence of five Legionnaires and several members of Congress.

Subsequent legislation for veterans, often also called GI Bills, have adjusted benefits over the years to fit the changes of America.

Men and women in uniform still earn education benefits. Instead of being used to help veterans ease into civilian life, education benefits now are offered as an incentive to join the current all-volunteer military forces. Home-loan guarantees have been increased from the $2,000 guaranties that sufficed after World War II, to a maximum of $46,000 today, which allows a veteran to finance a home with a loan up to $184,000 without a down payment.

World War II GI Bill

The first GI Bill provided six benefits, three of which were administered by VA: education and training, loan guaranty for a home, farm or business, and unemployment pay of $20 a week for up to 52 weeks. The other benefits were job-finding assistance, top priority for building materials for VA hospitals, and military review of dishonorable discharges.

To be eligible for GI Bill education benefits, a World War II veteran had to serve 90 days or more after Sept. 16, 1940, and have other than a dishonorable discharge. Veterans of the war were entitled to one year of full-time training plus a period equal to their time in service, up to a maximum of 48 months.

VA paid the educational institution up to a maximum of $500 a year for tuition, books, fees and other training costs. VA also paid the single veteran a subsistence allowance of up to $50 a month. This was increased to $65 a month in 1946 and to $75 a month in 1948. Allowances for veterans with dependents were higher.

This program ended July 25, 1956. In the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college enrollment. Out of a veteran population of 15,440,000, some 7.8 million were trained, including 2,230,000 in college, 3,480,000 in other schools, 1,400,000 in on-job training, and 690,000 in farm training. Total cost of the World War II education program was $14.5 billion.

Millions who would have flooded the labor market instead opted for education, which reduced joblessness during the demobilization period. When they did enter the labor market, most were better prepared to contribute to the support of their families and society.

Home loan guaranties boomed during the same period. From June 22, 1944, until passage of the Korean GI Bill, VA backed 2,360,603 home loans. In 1947 the peak year for World War II veterans, VA approved 640,298 loans, including 562,985 for homes, 24,690 for farms and 52,623 for businesses.

Korean Conflict GI Bill

Public Law 550, the "Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1952," was approved by President Truman on July 16, 1952.

To be eligible for Korean GI Bill benefits, a veteran had to serve 90 days or more after June 27, 1950, must have entered service before Feb. 1, 1955, and have other than a dishonorable discharge.

Like the World War II program, it provided education and training benefits as well as home, farm and business loans. But unlike the federally funded unemployment allowance for World War II veterans, it made payment of unemployment compensation a state function.

VA paid a single veteran an education benefit of up to $110 a month, out of which the veteran paid for tuition, books, fees, supplies and other training costs. Allowances for veterans with dependents were higher. The decision to have veterans pay for their tuition and books was made after Congressional hearings disclosed fraud by colleges and other institutions in the program for World War II veterans.

Korean Conflict veterans were entitled to GI Bill education and training for a period equal to one and one-half times their active service, up to a maximum of 36 months of training.

This program ended on January 31, 1955. During the course of the program, 2,391,000 of 5,509,000 eligible veterans received training: including 1,213,000 in institutions of higher learning, 860,000 below college level, 223,000 on the job, and 95,000 in institutional on-farm training. Total cost of the Korean Conflict GI Bill education and training program was $4.5 billion.

During the Korean War period, June 27, 1950 through Jan 31, 1955, VA approved 1,553,367 home loans for veterans.

Post-Korean–Vietnam Era GI Bill

Public Law 358, the "Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966," was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson on March 3, 1966. Home and farm loans, job counseling, and an employment placement service were other benefits provided. The education and training program went into effect on June 1, 1966. It was retroactive, providing benefits to Post-Korean veterans, who served between Feb. 1, 1955, and Aug. 4, 1964, as well as to Vietnam Era veterans, who served between Aug. 5, 1964, and May 7, 1975. For the first time in GI Bill history, service personnel also were eligible for GI Bill education and training while they were on active duty.

To be eligible, a veteran had to serve more than 180 continuous days, any part of which was after Jan. 31, 1955 and have other than a dishonorable discharge. Participants on active duty had to have two years of service. This was later changed to 180 days.

Originally, this GI Bill provided one month of education and training for each month of service, for a maximum of 36 months. In December 1976, maximum entitlement was extended to 45 months.

A major change in 1967 enabled veterans to take cooperative farm, on-job, flight and correspondence training. Disadvantaged veterans, those who did not finish high school before entering service, were given full VA benefits while completing high school, without losing any entitlement for college or other training.

The VA paid the veteran directly, out of which he paid his tuition, fees, books, and other training costs. A single veteran received up to $100 a month at first. This was increased to $130 in 1967; to $175 in 1970; to $220 in 1972; $270 in 1974; $292 in 1976; to $311 in 1977; $327 in 1980; $342 in 1981, and to $376 in 1984.

During the years of the program (1966-1989), 6 million Vietnam Era veterans, 1.4 million Post-Korean veterans and 751,000 service members trained under the program – a total of 8.2 million. A total of 5.1 million trained in colleges, 2.5 million in other schools, 591,000 on the job, and 56,000 in on-farm training. VA spent more than $42 billion to provide educational assistance.

During the Post-Korean – Vietnam Era period of 1955-1975, more than 4,500,000 loans were guaranteed by VA.

Post-Draft GI Bills

After the conclusion of the war in Southeast Asia, several programs were developed with an emphasis more on attracting recruits for the armed services after the military draft was ended than on helping veterans adjust to civilian life.

Those who entered the armed forces after 1976 were eligible for the Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Education Assistance Program. The program, called VEAP, for short, required that service members who chose to participate contribute a portion of each paycheck monthly. The government matched each participant's contribution with two dollars for each one dollar contribution and set up a fund for their post-service training. If a maximum of $2,700 was set aside by the participant, the government contributed a maximum of $5,400.

A veteran who participated in VEAP was eligible to receive benefits if the discharge was under conditions other than dishonorable. Participants could attend college or attend business, technical or vocational schools, participate in on-job training, cooperative courses, correspondence school and flight training. A veteran received monthly payments for the number of months contributed, or for 36 months, whichever was less.

Montgomery GI Bill

The current education plan, the Montgomery GI Bill, changes some of the features of the VEAP it replaced. Under the new plan, sponsored by Rep. G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, military reservists also are eligible for education benefits.

For the Active Duty part of the program, benefits generally are for individuals who enter active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985. Participants have their military pay reduced by $100 a month for the first 12 months of active duty. To qualify for benefits, the veteran generally must serve two or more years and receive an honorable discharge. Eligible training includes colleges, business, technical or vocational schools, participation in apprenticeship or on-job training, correspondence courses, and flight training. Maximum benefits are $400 a month for 36 months. The Defense Department may add a supplemental bonus, called a "kicker," as an incentive for special military duty.

The Montgomery GI Bill for reservists is similar, except a reservist's pay is not reduced. To be eligible a reservist must sign up for six years of duty in the reserve elements of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, or the Army or Air national guards.

After serving six months in the reserve, participants can be paid while attending college, business, technical or vocational schools, taking cooperative training, apprenticeship or on-job training, taking correspondence courses, accredited independent study programs, or flight training.

The full-time maximum rate for the reserve program is $190 a month for 36 months.

VA Home Loan Guaranty Program

The home loan program is the only provision of the original GI Bill that is still in force. Between the end of World War II and 1966, one-fifth of all single-family residences built were financed by the GI Bill for either World War II or Korean War veterans. From 1944 through December 1993, VA guaranteed 13.9 million home loans valued at more than $433.1 billion. Another 113,431 loans have financed manufactured homes valued at $2.1 billion.

Eligible loan guaranty users now are able to negotiate loan terms, including the interest rate, which helps the VA participants to compete better in the housing market. The loan guaranty program no longer has a terminating date and can be used by any veteran who served after Sept. 16, 1940, as well as men and women on active duty, surviving spouses and reservists.

Unemployment Benefits

To assist the veteran between discharge and reemployment, the 1944 GI Bill provided $20 a week for a maximum of 52 weeks. It was a lesser amount than unemployment benefits available to non veterans. This assistance avoided a repetition of the World War I demobilization, when unemployed veterans were reduced to relying on charities for food and shelter.

Critics dubbed the benefit the "52-20 Club" and predicted most veterans would avoid jobs for the 52 weeks the checks were available.

But only a portion of veterans were paid the maximum amount available. Less than one-fifth of the potential benefits were claimed, and only one out of 19 veterans exhausted the 52 weeks of checks.

The Bill's Growing Reputation

The overwhelming success of the original GI Bill made subsequent extensions virtually automatic. The Korean GI Bill passed quickly through Congress and the version for Vietnam veterans was enacted almost routinely. The Montgomery GI Bill, aimed at supporting a no-draft, all voluntary military force, used the popularity of the earlier GI Bills to help ensure enactment.

Labor experts said at the time that the first GI Bill veterans turned out to be the best educated and the best trained in the history of the nation.

The Bureau of the Census reported that World War II veterans not only gained a significant edge in education over non veterans but overcame a temporary lag in earning power, increasing their income by 40 percent to the non veterans' 10 percent in the four years after 1947.

In a study of "Who's Who in America," Dr. Amos Yoder concluded: "It seems clear that the GI Bill made an important contribution to our society by making it possible for a sizable percentage of talented men to obtain a higher education, which equipped them to become leaders in our society."

A Congressional study under Congressman Olin E. Teague concluded that the original GI Bill had achieved the specific purposes for which it was written: prevention of any serious problems of unemployment, unrest, and dissatisfaction among veterans, and restoration of human resources lost or retarded by the war.

Few predicted the GI Bill would have a significant impact. In signing the bill, President Roosevelt emphasized the nation's obligation toward its veterans but offered no hope that the Bill would change society so dramatically.

In prepared remarks, he said: "It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down."

The longer the GI Bill has been in existence, however, the more its contributions are appreciated.

Peter F. Drucker in 1992 wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the veterans' enthusiastic response to the Bill signaled a shift by the world from an industrial society to a knowledge society.

Others have commented that the progress veterans made in jobs and professions using the GI Bill changed the image of veterans. Before the GI Bill, veterans were considered homeless derelicts because so many were unable to find work upon returning from previous wars, including the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Since 1944, more than 20 million veterans and dependents have participated in GI Bill education and training programs totaling billions of dollars.

It has been calculated that during the lifetime of the average veteran the U.S. Treasury receives from two to eight times as much in income taxes as it paid out to the veteran in GI Bill education benefits. James A. Michener, the novelist, wrote in January 1993 that the original GI Bill is one of the two or three finest laws Congress has ever passed. Noting that it and two other laws, the 1862 Homestead Act and the 1862 Land-Grant Act, were passed in the middle of war, he commented "Subtract the consequences of these wartime laws and the United States would today be a much poorer nation."

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