“Wars are not paid for in wartime, the bill comes later.” — Benjamin Franklin
On this day in 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services — known as G.I.s — for their efforts in World War II.
As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt's administration created the G.I. Bill — officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 — hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran's organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and — most importantly — funding for education.
The G.I. Bill provided a comprehensive benefits package that included up to four years of education or training, federally guaranteed home, business, or farm loans with no down payment, and unemployment compensation that set aside a weekly unemployment allowance of $20 for 52 weeks. Those eligible had to have been in active duty for at least 90 days, even if they were not in combat, and couldn't have been dishonorably discharged. The Veterans Administration was responsible for implementing these key components of the bill.
While for most Americans higher education and home ownership were unattainable dreams before WWII, the G.I. Bill allowed millions of veterans to take part, and by 1947 they made up 49 percent of college admissions. By 1956, nearly 7.8 million of the 16 million WWII veterans had taken part in an education or training program and the VA had guaranteed 5.9 million home loans. It represented a huge contribution to the welfare of veterans and their families and to U.S. economic growth.
While it was a controversial bill, many agreed that they did not want to see a repeat of what happened after WWI. At that time, the Great Depression made it extremely difficult for veterans to assimilate into civilian society. Many were only compensated with a $60 allowance and a train ticket home. While they were supposed to get bonuses from the Bonus Act, they found out that they wouldn't see this money for 20 years and began protesting. The G.I. Bill was initially stalled due to disagreement in the Senate and House over the unemployment provision, as some believed this would make veterans lazy. However, after it was eventually passed, less than 20 percent of the funds set aside for unemployment benefits were actually used.
The education benefits didn't last long, and after the Veterans Adjustment Act of 1952 the government no longer paid tuition directly to colleges and universities, affecting veterans from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. While the 'Montgomery G.I. Bill' was introduced in 1984 to revamp the original and provide more money for education, it couldn't keep up with the rising cost of tuition in higher education and it was decided that a '21st Century G.I .bill' was needed.
By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation's college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.
As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses were developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining and fishing — skills that had previously been taught only informally.
The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs.
During my high school years in the early 1950s I had two teachers who were products of the G.I. Bill. One a biology teacher and the other taught mathematics, specifically geometry. Both were good no nonsense teachers that had no problems controlling the class. The biology teacher walked with a very severe limp due to wounds he received during the war. This was a small price for the government to pay for a person who gave his physical well-being for the rest of his life in service of his country.
The one thing that affected many WWII vets was PTSD. Not much was known of this trauma induced disorder in the 1950s and 1960s. This is no doubt the reason so many of these WWII vets returning home had problems with relationships and alcohol.
While I don’t favor federal dollars being paid to individuals for things such as food stamps and welfare as I can find no warrant in the Constitution for the federal government to do so. However, I do believe that when the federal government snatches a young man out of civilian life, dresses him in a uniform and sends him of to risk his life for the policies of the government then the government has some obligation to give back to that person. If Article I, Section of the Constitution allows Congress to spend money on:
- To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
- To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
- To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
- To provide and maintain a navy;
- To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
- To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Then I believe the authority is here to take care of the veterans who have sacrificed so much to carry out the stated foreign policy goals of the United States. This is what we have a Veterans Administration and V.A. Hospitals that are supposed to care for returning vets be they suffering from physical or mental wounds. So by giving these vets a chance to better themselves through higher education is a small price to pay for their service.
Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.