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The GI Bill created a comprehensive package of benefits, including financial assistance for higher education, for veterans of U.S. military service. The benefits of the GI Bill are intended to help veterans readjust to civilian life following service to their country and to encourage bright, motivated men and women to volunteer for military duty. This legislation came in two parts: the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 and the Montgomery GI Bill.
Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944
The first GI Bill was proposed and drafted by the American Legion, led by former Illinois governor John Stelle, during World War II. The public remembered a post-World War I recession, when millions of veterans returned to face unemployment and homelessness. Twice as many veterans would return from World War II, and widespread economic hardship was a real concern. A healthy postwar economy, it seemed, would depend on providing soldiers with a means to support themselves once they were back home.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst became the bill's most ardent and vocal supporter. Hearst and his nationwide string of newspapers lobbied the public and members of Congress to support those who served their country, and his effort was a success. The bill unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944. President franklin d. roosevelt signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, ch. 268, 58 Stat. 284).
The original GI Bill offered veterans up to $500 a year for college tuition and other educational costs—ample funding at the time. An unmarried veteran also received a $50-a-month allowance for each month spent in uniform; a married veteran received slightly more. Other benefits included mortgage subsidies, enabling veterans to purchase homes with relative ease.
Despite initial misgivings over its success, the GI Bill proved to be enormously effective. Prior to its passage, detractors feared that paying the education expenses of veterans would lead to overcrowding at colleges, which before World War II were accessible predominantly to members of society's upper class. Critics were concerned that veterans would wreak havoc on educational standards and overburden campuses with their lack of preparation for the rigors of higher learning.
College campuses did become grossly over-crowded in the postwar years: approximately 7.8 million World War II veterans received benefits under the original GI Bill, and 2.2 million of those used the program for higher education. By 1947 half of all college students were veterans. Prefabricated buildings and Quonset huts were used as classrooms, and military barracks were often converted into dormitories. However, having spent a large part of their youth engaged in battle, World War II veterans were highly motivated. GIs in their late twenties and early thirties returned to the United States in droves, anxious to catch up with their nonmilitary peers, marry, settle down, and support a family. The benefits provided by the GI Bill facilitated these goals.
Veterans were not the only beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Colleges, with increased enrollments, received years of financial security following its enactment. Veterans demanded more practical college course work, and this need led to a changed concept of higher education, with more emphasis on degree programs like business and engineering. The lines of race, class, and religion blurred as higher education became attainable for all veterans. No longer was a college degree—and the higher paying jobs that normally follow it—limited to members of the upper class. Federal income increased as the average income of taxpayers in the United States increased, and as the veterans graduated from colleges, women and members of minorities enrolled to fill the gaps they left. The GI Bill's mortgage subsidies led to an escalated demand for housing and the development of suburbs. One-fifth of all single-family homes built in the 20 years following World War II were financed with help from the GI Bill's loan guarantee program, symbolizing the emergence of a new middle class.
Montgomery GI Bill
Following the United States involvement in the Vietnam War and the end of the military draft in 1973, the number of qualified young adults willing to voluntarily serve in the military declined. In 1984 Representative G. V. ("Sonny") Montgomery (D-MS), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, proposed a new GI Bill to encourage military service, even in times of peace. That year President ronald reagan signed into law the Montgomery GI Bill (38 U.S.C.A. § 1401), which as of the early 2000s continues to provide optional benefits for qualified U.S. veterans.
The Montgomery GI Bill is a voluntary plan that requires a contribution from the soldier who chooses to take part. Upon entry into the Armed Services, including the National Guard and military reserves, participants may elect to have their military pay reduced by $100 each month of the first 12 months of service. This sacrifice makes them eligible to receive up to $400 a month for 36 months toward tuition and other educational expenses. To receive these benefits, soldiers must receive an honorable discharge, earn a high school diploma or its equivalent, and serve in active duty for the length of their enlistment. The federal government supplies funding but does not set standards or administer the plan; the veterans administration determines whether a veteran is eligible, and the Colleges and Universities (including religious and vocational schools) make admissions policies and keep track of expenditures.
Effects of the GI Bill
The GI Bill, in both its versions, is widely regarded as a success. Military recruiters routinely promote its benefits as a way to attract and enlist the best and brightest young adults: in 1996, 95 percent of new armed services recruits were high school graduates and 94.8 percent of eligible recruits chose to enroll in the education program. (Three-fourths of all women and men who have enlisted since the program began have enrolled.)
In 2000, President bill clinton signed an amendment to the Montgomery GI Bill that allows for a "Top-Up" benefit. This benefit, which equals the difference between the total cost of a particular course and the amount of tuition assistance paid by the military, effectively allows enrollees to receive 100 percent tuition assistance. In 2001, President george w. bush signed two additional bills. The Veterans' Opportunities Act of 2001 (Pub. L. 107-14) became law on June 5, 2001 and the 21st Century GI Enhancement Act (Pub. L. 107-103) became law on December 27, 2001. Both bills amended Title 38 to provide greater benefits to service men and women.
Beneficiaries of the GI Bill include Presidents george h. w. bush and gerald r. ford; Vice President albert gore jr.; Chief Justice william h. rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens, both of the U.S. Supreme Court; Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher; journalists David Brinkley and John Chancellor; actors Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, and Jason Robards Jr.; and former Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry.
Asch, Beth J., et al. 2000. An Assessment of Recent Proposals to Improve the Montgomery GI Bill. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand.
Bennett, Michael J. 1996. When Dreams Come True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc.
Evans, Philip G., II. 1989. "The New GI Bill: The Trojan Horse of the 1900s?" Army Law 17 (October).
Hyman, Harold M. 1986. American Singularity: The 1787 Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 GI Bill. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press.
Veterans Administration, GI Bill. Available online at <www.gibill.va.gov> (accessed October 14, 2003).