A brief history of the greatest military benefit ever
This article is sponsored by Grantham University
The original GI Bill, officially known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was as much social engineering as it was a benefit of service. Congress was concerned about the impact millions of World War II veterans would have on the nation.
It hadn't gone well after World War I. Discharged veterans got little more than $60 and a train ticket home, and their situation was made worse by the Great Depression. Congress tried to intervene by passing the World War Adjusted Act of 1924 (a.k.a. 'the Bonus Act'), but it just made things worse in that -- while vets were paid based on number of days served -- most of them wouldn't see a dime for 20 years. Disgruntled vets camped out around Washington DC (known as the "Bonus Army") and refused to leave until they were paid. They were later kicked out of town following a bitter standoff with U.S. troops. The incident -- ironically American troops fighting American military veterans -- marked one of the greatest periods of unrest our nation's capital had ever known.
So the return of millions of veterans from World War II gave Congress a chance at redemption. But the GI Bill had far greater implications. It was seen as a genuine attempt to thwart a looming social and economic crisis. Some saw inaction as an invitation to another depression. But the legislation wasn't without controversy. Some shunned the concept of sending battle-hardened veterans to colleges and universities, a privilege then reserved for the rich.
Before World War II, college wasn't an option for most Americans. Thanks to the GI Bill, millions who would have flooded the job market instead opted for education. In the peak year of 1947, Veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original GI Bill ended in 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program.
The GI Bill encouraged vets to go back to school and, once they did, to move out of the city and into a new thing called "the suburbs" where they could afford to live courtesy of their no-down-payment VA home loans. No other legislation, not to mention military benefit, has shaped the nation as dramatically.
The Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 changed the nature of military service in America by extending benefits to veterans who served during times of war and peace. At first there was some opposition to the concept of a peacetime G.I. Bill. President Dwight Eisenhower had rejected such a measure in 1959 after the Bradley commission concluded that military service should be "an obligation of citizenship, not a basis for government benefits." President Lyndon B. Johnson believed that many of his "Great Society" social programs negated the need for sweeping veterans benefits. But, prompted by unanimous support given the bill by Congress, Johnson signed it into law in 1966.
Critics within the veterans' community and on Capitol Hill charged that the bill did not go far enough. At first, single veterans who had served more than 180 days and had received an other than dishonorable discharge received only $100 a month from which they had to pay for tuition and all of their expenses. Most found this amount to be sufficient to pay only for books and minor fees, but not enough to live on or attend college full-time. Veterans of the Vietnam War felt slighted that the bill did not provide them with the same educational opportunities as their World War II predecessors. Consequently, during the early years of the program, only about 25 percent of Vietnam veterans used their education benefits.
The United States military moved to an all-volunteer force in 1973, and veterans continued to receive benefits, in part as an inducement to enlist. The GI Bill was again revamped in 1984 by Mississippi Congressman "Sonny" Montgomery, which is why that version is known as the "Montgomery GI Bill." The Montgomery GI Bill was complicated and required that service members forfeit $100 a month in order to receive their education benefits.
In 2008 Senator Jim Webb began working legislation for a more comprehensive benefit in the spirit of the original GI Bill. The bill was officially called the "Post 9-11 GI Bill," but it was more commonly referred to as the "new GI Bill."
The new GI Bill provides for tuition, a book allowance, and a housing allowance. To qualify for the benefit, a veteran must have served at least 90 days of active duty service post-9/11, or have served 30 days and was discharged due to a service connected injury or illness. Veterans will be paid a monthly housing allowance based on the military's Basic Allowance for Housing rate for an E-5 with dependents. (The living allowance can range from $1071/month in Bellville, OH, to $3,744/month in New York City.) The last and most novel feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill is that currently serving troops have the opportunity to transfer education benefits to a spouse or a child.
Like any major legislation, the Post-9/11 GI Bill had some growing pains, most notably payments from the VA were slow in getting to colleges and in some cases veterans had to reach into their own pockets for periods of time to keep from getting disenrolled, but ultimately the benefit has proved to be a worthy heir to the original GI Bill, a benefit for both the veterans and the nation that will leverage their education and skills.