G.I. Bill

G.I. Bill

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On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the G.I. Bill, in order to help soldiers secure stability as they returned to civilian life. A broadcast aired shortly after the bill was signed describes a nation preparing to welcome World War II veterans.

VII. Benefits Today

There are two active iterations of the GI Bill as of 2015: The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The MGIB required a service-member having been a member of the military after 30 June, 1985 as well as having met one of three service requirements: a minimum of three continuous years on Active Duty National Guard or Selective Reserve members serve two continuous years of Active Duty upon joining the military, as well as an additional four years of reserve duty or at least thirty months of Active Duty, if having been discharged for a service-connected disability or faced with being separated due to a reduction of force (draw down of the military). 57 Special circumstances also existed for those participating in Veteran Educational Assistance Programs (VEAPs). Educationally speaking, participants needed a high school diploma or an equivalent certification. 58

MGIB funding can be dispersed in a variety of ways: as of October, 2012, participants could receive up to $1,564 in as a Monthly Allowance the Tuition Assistance “Top-Up” Program gives branches the ability to pay a part of the tuition and costs for Active Duty service- members Advance Payments disperse the first full month of the Monthly Allowance, which is sent to the school with the excess being dispersed to the student for recipients entering “High Tech industry” path of education in which the expenses are double the Monthly Allowance, the recipient is eligible to receive the term‟s total payments upfront, at the cost of shortening the recipient‟s entitlement period. 59 The MGIB also allows for the payment of other entitlements: Tutorial assistance (up to $100 a month for tutors), payment of licensing and test fees (at the expense of one month less on entitlement, per test), as well as paying for admission fees into a school. 60 The MGIB allowed for a service-member to accrue an additional $5,400 if they invested an additional $600 into the MGIB while serving on Active Duty. 61 Members of the Selective Reserve can get the same benefits as those getting MGIB-Active Duty if they are eligible.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill was designed specifically with the modern American veteran in mind. Eligibility differs from the MGIB: service-members have to have completed an aggregate of 90 days on Active Duty once that requirement is met, a service-member must either be discharged honorably or continue to serve with honor. 62 It should be noted that almost the entirety of today‟s Active Duty troops are eligible to receive benefits from the Post 9/11 GI Bill or the MGIB service-members must pick an iteration of the GI Bill, and cannot benefit from both. 63 Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits can be applied to the following endeavors: educational courses at an institution of higher learning licensing and certification tests entrepreneurship courses college admissions tests (such as the SAT or ACT) preparatory courses and college credit equivalency tests (such as AP Exams). 64 It should also be noted that after the first full year of implementation, the cost was at $5.5 billion in 2010 some two years later, the tax payers paid $10.2 billion to foot the Post 9/11 GI Bill. 65


Discrimination has long been a part of the United States’ culture, a stain-like reminder of our nation’s past. From 1940-1990 government policy, location, and time period have all played major roles in both inciting and restraining the ongoing racist culture that has affected the lives of so many Americans. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944, he passed the first “race-neutral” piece of legislation for veterans in the United States (Turner and Bound 2002, 5). This bill was passed with the goal of easing the transition for veterans returning home from the Second World War in Europe. This legislation made it possible for tens of thousands of veterans to obtain undergraduate degrees by funding their college educations (Altschuler and Blumin 2009, 6). The government then extended this bill to Korean War veterans in 1952 and Vietnam veterans in 1966 and continued to provide the same aid for the various returning servicemen through this time period (Dortch 2016, 7).

While most Americans regard the GI Bill as an unqualified success, one question that arises about its triumph is whether veterans of all races experienced the positive impacts of the bill equally. Many Americans, including former President Bill Clinton, praise the Servicemen Readjustment Act for its long-lasting effects and its ability to not only help build better lives for veterans, but to also fuel the impressive economic growth of the second half of the 20 th century (Altschuler and Blumin 2009).

“Passed in an era of entrenched racial prejudice,” this bill included nothing that would distinguish the race of the veterans it aided (Altschuler and Blumin 2009, 129). However, many historians have discovered that the vast majority of the Bill’s beneficiaries were white. This poses the query: was the so highly regarded GI Bill a discriminatory piece of legislation? If so, why, and once extended, did the bill continue to favor white veterans even after the civil rights movement? The purpose of this study is to discover the connection between race, location and the ability of the veterans to attain higher education through the aid provided by the GI Bill.

Sarah Turner and John Bound’s in depth analysis found the effects of the GI Bill to be racially unequal following World War II. The educational level completed by the veterans differed for black and white veterans, even though the bill technically provided the exact same aid to both races (Turner and Bound 2002). Turner and Bound argue that this disparity was completely based upon the location in which the veterans resided. In Turner and Bound’s research, they discovered that the accessibility of upper level education was much more constricted in the South than in the North. The colleges for black people were much less numerous than those for whites and the enrollment sizes were smaller in the South than in the North (Turner and Bound 2002, 7). Furthermore, admissions officers were much more likely to allow a black person into a traditionally white college in the Northern states than anywhere else. Harley L. Browning, Sally C. Lopreato, and Dudley L. Poston add to this argument and claim that, immediately after World War II, this inequality was also a result of different sets of societal norms in the different places where the veterans lived. They argue that when black veterans returned home, they were much less likely to try to leave the familiar socioeconomic class they had belonged to before the war. This was a lower class than most whites had been in pre-war. However, all of these historians only analyze the effects of the GI Bill immediately after World War II and fail to include evaluation of the time when Jim Crow did not play a major role in the South. In and of itself, the Bill was “race-neutral” however, multiple external factors help explain why the benefits of the Bill were distributed unevenly among the races.

In addition to looking at the correlation between race, location, and levels of education of the veterans following World War II, I also analyze these trends in the time period following the Korean Conflict GI Bill in 1952 and the Post-Korean Conflict and Vietnam Era GI Bill in 1966. These two extensions provided similar benefits to the veterans of each respective war (Dortch 2016, 7). These later extensions occurred during the Cold War era, a tumultuous time period in American history with an extreme effect on the society and education system. During this time the government allocated funds to enhance both public and private educational opportunities, especially in science and math (Thelin, Edwards, and Moyen 2016). In addition, the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s broke down barriers for black people in higher education all across the country and most notably, in the South. However, there is very little literature discussing the distribution of the GI Bill during this time frame, so all analysis I have done is based upon the consideration of the census data and the information available about the effects of the Civil Rights movement and Cold War policies, rather than on historians’ studies of the bills.

I have used census data to analyze the educational attainment of black and white veterans from 1940 to 1990. I have created three different types of data visualizations to show my findings. This time period includes the veterans from World War II, the veterans from the Korea Conflict, and the veterans from the Vietnam War. The data for all the visualizations are drawn from IPUMS (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series) 1% samples for 1940, 1950, 1960 and 1990. For 1970, the data are from 1% state fm2 and for 1980 the data are from 1% metro. Each year’s data were weighted by PERWT. Only white and black male veterans are included in this analysis. I made the decision to control external factors and only consider black and white males in order to avoid skewing the data with females and other minority races who would have had different experiences in their military and post-military careers. Until 1960, data for Alaska and Hawaii are not included in the IPUMS database and the data for the two states were dealt with differently for each type of visualization.

The four sets of United States maps show either the total population of black or white veterans, or the educated population of veterans of each race. Figures one and two show the total populations of white male veterans and black male veterans in each state, respectively. Figures three and four show only the population of the “educated” veterans sorted by race. For these sets of data visualizations, the term “educated” refers to the veterans with education levels higher than a twelfth grade level, because this is what the GI Bill supported. Data for Alaska and Hawaii have been included in all years, but because no data exist for the two states in the 1940 and 1950 censuses, the information seen in this visualization cannot be analyzed until 1960 for either Alaska or Hawaii.

The bar graph shows the population of black and white veterans sorted into three levels of education. Data for Alaska and Hawaii are included for all years in this visualization. The three divisions of education for this set of graphs are as follows: education less than a twelfth grade level, a completed high school degree (education through the twelfth grade level), and any amount of education above a twelfth grade level.

The spine graph shows the percentages of the black and white veterans based upon their education. The education levels are broken into the same three categories as the bar graph and the data is then sorted by region. The four regions are the Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont), the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin), the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia), and the West (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii). The width of each bar represents the population of veterans in that region, but it is important to note that the widths of each spine graph do not correlate to each other. There are far fewer black veterans than white veterans even if their bar widths are the same.

Code for these visualizations can be found here .

Figure 1 – White Veteran Population by State

Figure 2 – Black Veteran Population by State

As shown in Figures 1 and 2, the population of veterans between 1940 and 1990 was primarily white. This has to do with the fact that there were so many more white people in the military and in the overall population of the United States. Leading up to 1940, the military was primarily made up of white men. There were only six black units in the military before World War II, accounting for fewer than 5,000 servicemen. Even during the Second World War black males were much more likely to be deferred from service due to failing the literacy test and being labeled “mentally deficient,” a practice that had been used to exclude blacks from many areas of society for a long time (Turner and Bound 2002, 4). These two maps also show where the majority of the populations of black and white veterans lived. Most black veterans lived in the Northeast, eastern Midwest, and the southern states. California and Texas also have relatively high populations of black veterans during this time period. White veterans are somewhat more equally spread among the states but also reside more heavily in the same areas that the black veterans do. As time goes on, there is an increase in the number of veterans, as seen in the maps. The populations of both races become more dispersed, but continue to remain the most concentrated in the Northeast, South, and parts of the Midwest.

Figure 3 – Veteran Population by Educational Attainment (Percent)

Figure 3 displays the mass trends across the United States throughout the time period. There is an increase in the number of veterans educated above a high school level for both white and black veterans between 1940 and 1950, when the GI Bill is enacted. This is to be expected and shows that the aid the GI Bill provided for all veterans to enroll in higher education was successful (Altschuler and Blumin 2009). Over the 60 years of this study, the increase of both black and white servicemen with higher levels of education is relatively steady. According to Altushuler and Blumin, this fact of longevity proves the success of the GI Bill and is the reason it is so highly regarded.

Another trend in Figure 3 however, shows that the effects of the GI Bill were not “race-neutral”. Throughout the whole time period I analyze, white veterans constantly have a higher percentage of population with the highest level of education. Browning, Lopreato, and Poston argue that this is a result of the pre-existing societal norms that put pressure on black veterans to re-engage in their society in the same socioeconomic class as they had left it in, even if the GI Bill gave them the opportunity to elevate that status through free education. However, the researchers also acknowledge that the veterans’ location and the racism present in that location have the largest effects on their ability to use the GI Bill. Because the article by Browning, Lopreato, and Poston was published in 1974, I contend that their argument might be slightly out of date and somewhat biased. However, it does align with the trends immediately after 1940 so it is an important claim to consider. The argument based upon location is discussed more in relationship to Figures 6 and 7 and the article written by Turner and Bound. Even though white veterans have a higher percentage of people educated further than a high school degree, towards the very end of the time period analyzed, the percent of black veterans with higher level education increases to about 40%, only 10 percentage points less than the white veterans, who had about 50% of their population with above a high school education. As discussed earlier, literature on the extensions of the GI Bill is scarce. Yet, one can deduct from knowledge about the time period that this rise in higher education for black veterans was aided by the effects of the Civil Rights movement and Cold War time period. Some results from that era, like affirmative action, pressure for institutions to become more racially inclusive and diverse, the normalization of college degrees for people in all socioeconomic classes, and the federal funding of state colleges, might all have effects that would lead to the increase in the percent of black veterans with some sort of higher education.

The most remarkable trend from Figure 3, however, is the overall data change from 1940 to 1990 for the black veterans. The percentage of black veterans with a higher than high school education goes from less than five percent to about forty percent, compared to the white veterans who go from about twenty percent to fifty percent. This shows that, overall, the average education level for black veterans has changed drastically. According to Bound and Turner, this might have more to do with Civil Rights movements than the GI Bill, but like stated above there is no definite research done that would prove this.

A final trend that can be gathered from Figure 3 is the stagnation of the percent of veterans, both black and white, that only earned high school degrees after 1960 coupled with a decrease in the number of veterans with less than a high school degree. About 40% of black and white veterans are educated to a twelfth grade level from 1970 to 1990. I speculate that this is because of the normalization of college degrees and the accessibility of increasingly large number of colleges and universities nationwide allowing those who would generally have just a high school degree a chance to have college education on top of their high school diploma (Thelin, Edwards and Moyen 2016). Because so many more people ended up in higher education, the increase in percent of people with high school degrees is hidden by those who are also attending college and universities. This is also a result of the changing societal norms toward the end of the time period.

Figure 4 – Educated White Veteran Population by State

Figure 5 – Educated Black Veteran Population by State

Figure 6 – White Veteran Population by Education Level and by Region

Figure 7 – Black Veteran Population by Education Level and by Region

Figures 4, 5, 6, and 7 all show extremely important trends pertaining to the claim about veteran’s location being a key factor in the efficiency of the GI Bill for the two races of veterans discussed. All four visualizations prove that the effectiveness of the GI Bill was, in fact, dependent upon location, at least from the 1940 census until the 1970 census. Figures three and four show the population of the educated veterans based on each state. When this data is analyzed alongside figures six and seven, one can see that up until 1980, it was much more difficult for black veterans to get a higher education than it was for white veterans in the South compared to any other region. The works written by Turner and Bound and Altschuler and Blumin all support this finding. However, this trend declines as time goes on. I accredit this development to the Civil Rights movement and the rise of institutions like junior colleges, more commonly known as community colleges (Thelin, Edwards, and Moyen 2016).

A final trend that should also be taken into account when analyzing the developments for black veterans is a trend that is shown by all the data visualizations. The number of black military members and their average level of educational attainment steadily increase as time goes by. Although it is true that the GI Bill’s impact was not racially equal throughout its existence, it did in fact affect the black veteran population quite dramatically. The timing of the major percentage increases shows that the usage of the aid that the bill provided was largely dependent upon the racial and educational norms of the regional area that surrounded each individual veteran. As the society changed, so did the ability to use the GI Bill.


The organization was established in Corpus Christi, the seat of Nueces County, Texas, on March 26, 1948, by Dr. Hector P. Garcia to address the concerns of Mexican-American veterans, who were segregated from other veterans groups. Initially formed to request services for World War II veterans of Mexican descent who were denied medical services by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the AGIF soon entered into non-veteran's issues such as voting rights, jury selection, and educational desegregation, advocating for the civil rights of all Mexican Americans. In 1959, the organization claimed 25,000 members in 18 states. [2] Today, the AGIF advocates on behalf of all Hispanic veterans.

The AGIF's first campaign was on the behalf of Felix Longoria, a Mexican-American private who was killed in the Philippines in the line of duty during World War II. Three years after the war, when Longoria's remains were returned to Texas, his family was denied funeral services by a white-owned funeral home. Dr. Garcia requested the intercession of then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who secured Longoria's burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The case brought the AGIF to national attention, and chapters were opened throughout the country. A women's and youth auxiliary were also formed.

The AGIF, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens, was a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case of Hernandez v. Texas (1954). Pete Hernandez, a farm worker in Texas, was convicted of murder by an all-white jury. His attorneys appealed his conviction because Mexican Americans had been systematically excluded for years from Texas juries. But, since they were classified as white, the state court said a white jury constituted a "jury of peers" for Hernandez. His defense attorneys took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, becoming the first Mexican-American attorneys to appear there. They argued that Texas discriminated against Mexican Americans as a class and Hernandez's rights were violated by Texas' exclusion of Mexican Americans from all juries. In its unanimous decision, Hernandez v. Texas (1954), the court ruled that Mexican Americans were a class in this case, as discrimination against them was proven, and that they and all other racial or national groups in the United States had equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

In contrast to LULAC, the America GI Forum was more willing to engage in oppositional politics and some of its members wearing their caps marched in solidarity with Chicano protestors. Between 1969 and 1979, the Forum led a national boycott against the Adolph Coors Company, one of the largest beer producers in the nation, challenging the corporation's discriminatory employment practices affecting Chicanos. [3]

Like LULAC, the AGIF rooted itself in Texas and spread slowly to other states. In 1954, AGIF chapters were present in 16 states but the majority of the chapters were in Texas. It was not until the 1960s that the organization became popular in California, and councils were founded in the East Coast in Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington D.C. And by 1974, AGIF has a noticeable presence throughout the country including the Pacific Northwest and some chapters in the South.

  • Dr. Hector P. Garcia
  • Francisco Ivarra
  • Antonio Gil Morales (2005 – 2009)
  • Albert Gonzales (2010-2013)
  • Luis Vazquez-Contes (2013-2014)
  • Ángel Zúñiga (2014–2018)
  • Lawrence G. Romo (2018–present)

Each local chapter elects a "Commander" and a state chairperson. A yearly national convention is held to elect national high officers.


To help veterans from World War II cope with the difficulties of returning to civilian life, Congress passed the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act” in 1944. Better known as the G.I. Bill, this program offered subsidies for home purchases, business startup costs, hospitalization, and education. Most people expected that it would be used primarily to provide housing for veterans -– President Franklin D. Roosevelt estimated that only a few hundred thousand servicemen would use the laws’ education benefit. However, by the fall of 1946, just one year after the war ended, almost a million veterans were enrolled in college classes across the nation. At the University of Illinois, more than 23,000 students hoped to register. This represented an 80 percent increase in enrollment from the previous year and 8,000 more than the Urbana campus could accommodate. A committee examining student admissions reported:

These facts (the anticipated enrollment at Urbana) describe the most serious situation which has ever been faced by the University of Illinois…. The problem is not temporary…. After the last war the demand for higher education was increased by more than 40 percent. A further increase came after the Great Depression…. This is both an emergency and a permanent problem of supreme importance.

State and U of I officials scoured the region for housing for these new students. They found 75 ready-built houses in Indiana and moved these to Urbana, setting them up in nice, neat rows in a field near campus. The University also agreed to build additional classrooms and residence facilities, including installing dormitories in Memorial Stadium. It quickly became clear, however, that even these efforts would not be sufficient. Lawmakers subsequently offered their solutions to the enrollment crisis. State Senator Everett R. Peters proposed legislation to set up a statewide public junior (community) college system which would offer schooling for freshmen and sophomores near their homes (Senate Bill No. 153, 1945). Others, including then State Senator Richard J. Daley, introduced legislation calling for the creation of a new branch of the University in Chicago (Senate Bill No. 388, 1945). Neither bill passed the General Assembly.

The University decided instead to create two temporary campuses that would provide the first two years of training at Galesburg in western Illinois and in Chicago. The curriculum at these campuses was to be based on Urbana lower division work so these schools would not be junior colleges but rather full branches of the U of I. Students could take required courses at one of these campuses before completing their studies in Urbana. At Galesburg, the University took over the wartime Mayo Hospital complex made up of about 120 red brick buildings connected to one another by more than 1¼ miles of covered corridors. It was described as a “college under one roof.” Enrollment at the campus never reached capacity, however, and it was closed after three years. In Chicago, University officials recommended using the city-owned facilities on Navy Pier.


The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the G.I. Bill, was signed into law by President Roosevelt, in June 22, 1944. The bill would offer veterans with funding for their college education, housing, and unemployment. The cash was provided to those veterans who were fighting during the Second World War, and funds were extracted from the funds set aside for battle.


While WW2 was in effect, the department of labor had estimated that there would be around 15 million individuals (men and women) that would be unemployed, once the war ended.

The resources planning board, in order to prevent this widespread amount of unemployment and of financial difficulties, speculated what the post war manpower demand would be like and created a variety of programs and training for the end of 1942 and early 1943.

The American Legion was in charge of laying out the content in the G.I. Bill, and what terms would be set forth for veterans the bill was sent to congress, passed both houses, and was signed in to law by the President in 1944, only a few days after D-Day.

Federal Aid

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was realized and was more well-known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. It provided federal aid for veterans who had fought in war. The bill was meant to aid the veterans to help them return and transition back in to civilian life as easily as possible, in areas from hospital bills, home purchases, business, and namely in the field of education.

The bill provided funding to help pay for books, financials for schooling, counseling, and any other financials, that were connected to getting an education, once they returned to civilian life, and decided to go back to get an education. For the following 7 years, about 2,300,000 individuals attended college, 3,500,000 received training from school, and about 3,400,000 received on the job training, thanks to the funding that was provided by the G.I. Bill. The number of bachelor degree granted was doubled from 1940 to 1950, and the number of individuals who had a college education jumped from just under 5 % up to around 25 % in only half a century since the Servicemen Act (the G.I. Bill) became law following the war.

Benefits Included

For veterans who did take advantage of the bill, there were quite a few opportunities, and there were several areas of financial assistance that they received, once returning home from the war, in an attempt to get back to civilian life as naturally as possible.

Some of the financial assistance offered included payment for college/schooling, discounts on mortgage rates for those who were going to buy a home, low interest rates for those who were interested in starting their own business, cash payments for living expenses related to college attendance, and a number of other unemployment compensation and benefits were offered, to the veterans who participated in the Bill.


By the time period that it had expired, the portion that covered for education and for training had paid out around $14.5 million to those who had selected to return to school, and to receive an education, in order to get proper training, for new careers, following the return to civilian life.

Although this number was quite high, estimates showed that with the increase from the federal tax returns would quickly repay this amount, many times over, and would circulate the money that was spent, back in to the economy, just as quickly as it was paid out.

By the time 1955 rolled around, it was also estimated that there were about 4.3 million home loans granted to these veterans because of the bill, and that these total amounts were around $33 million for the outstanding loan totals following the post war period.

Veteran Contribution

It was estimated that veterans were responsible for the purchase of around 20% of new homes that were being sold during this period and for several years following the signing of the Servicemen Bill into law. This also reflected in other areas of the country’s economy, and instead of a post-war economic depression, only prosperity thrived. The great returns were because of the finances to veterans who had come home from the war who needed to readjust to civilian life.

Extension of the Bill

Over the years, the bill was extended countless times, and it had been taken advantage of by many war veterans, namely those who decided to go back to school, receive training for work, and get an education after returning from war. Millions of veterans have taken part in the program, and millions of dollars have been displaced for these individuals throughout the year, and following several wars, not only WW2.

There were around 2.3 million Americans who used the funding during the Korean War alone, and received financial assistance once they returned home and to their families after the war. During the Vietnam War, around 8 million Americans decided to use the resources, and received the same type of funding for schooling, home purchases, return to civilian life, and other aspects of their life.

History of the GI Bill

Since the signing of the original GI Bill, the program has gone through major changes. None as big as the changes created by the bill’s newest manifestation, the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Benefit payments under the new bill went to more than 290,000 Veterans in the first year.

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights.

The Veterans Administration – as it was known at that time -- was responsible for carrying out the law's key provisions for education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay.

Before the World War II, college and homeownership were, for the most part, unreachable dreams for the average American. Thanks to the GI Bill, millions who would have flooded the job market opted for education instead.

In the peak year of 1947, Veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original GI Bill ended, July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of the 16 million World War II Veterans had participated in an education or training program.

In 1984, former Mississippi congressman G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery revamped the GI Bill. The Montgomery GI Bill assured that VA home loan guaranty and education programs continued to work for Veterans of the post-Vietnam era.

In 2009, GI Bill benefits were updated again. The new law, called the Post-9/11 GI Bill, gives servicemembers and veterans with 90 or more days of active duty service on, or after, Sept. 11 2001, enhanced educational benefits to cover more expenses, provide a living allowance, money for books and the ability to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.

History of the GI Bill

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Public Law 78-346, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, to provide sweeping new benefits to World War II veterans. The law has been commonly referred to as the “G.I. Bill” since then.

The G.I. Bill is most remembered for providing unprecedented educational benefits, but it did much more:

  • It elevated the VA to a war essential agency, second only to the War and Navy Departments (at the time), giving it elevated priority in funding, etc.
  • Provided $500,000,000 for additional veterans hospitals
  • Authorized interchange of staff and facilities between VA and the military services to facilitate adjudication and dissemination of all veterans benefits
  • Authorized educational benefits to honorably discharged veterans (not just the disabled) who served after September 16, 1940 (World War II veterans) this included attending college, refresher courses, retraining, etc., at approved institutions for up to 4 years
  • Provided loans for veterans to purchase homes, new construction, farms and farm equipment, and business property
  • Provided job counseling and employment services for World War II veterans

Before the 1944 G.I. Bill became law, training and educational opportunities were limited to disabled military veterans who were injured during their service. Beginning at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (VHA origins), established in 1865, disabled veterans were trained in new occupations as their interests and abilities allowed. Veterans were taught trades such as telegraphy, plastering, or gardening as residents at the National Homes. There was no education opportunities or benefits for them outside of the National Home. Congress authorized funds for farming or manufacturing operations at the National Homes as both a means to supply necessary food, supplies, and services to the Homes and as occupational endeavors for its residents. By 1875, veterans at the National Homes were engaged in cigar-making, knitting socks, printing and bookbinding, shoe-making, wagon-making, iron work, plumbing, building steam engines, tin-smithing, tailoring, bread baking, breeding and raising livestock, cabinetry, and much more. They often sold items to the public in the Home’s commissary and were paid for their labors.

In 1918, the Federal Board of Vocational Education established a rehabilitation division for disabled World War I veterans. The Board worked with states, local business, and vocational schools to provide veterans with training for new occupations such as farming or teaching. By 1922, over 156,000 disabled World War veterans had entered 445 trades or professions.

VA’s 1945 annual report showed that during the G.I. Bill’s first year:

  • VA received 83,016 applications for education benefits: of those, 75,272 were eligible, 35,044 entered courses, and 22,335 were in training.
  • VA received 15,455 applications for home loan guarantees: 12,228 loans were made in the amount of $19,644,824.90 for 11,220 home loans, 270 farm loans, and 738 business loans.

By 1951 8,170,000 veterans had attended over 1,700 schools and colleges at a cost to the Government of $14,000,000,000. 3,430,000 were able to finish high school 2,350,000 went to college 1,630,000 received on-the-job training, and 760,000 obtained on-the-farm training. In 1944, educators were skeptical about the bill, but by 1951, they had nothing but praise for the bill’s success in educating millions of veterans who could not have afforded to do so on their own.

Today in History: Franklin Roosevelt Signs the GI Bill into Law (1944)

After World War I, there was a lot of debate about the bonuses that returning veterans should receive in the United States. What ended up happening was that each veteran was given a voucher, which they could redeem in 1945, that would give them a certain amount of money. As you might suspect, this did not sit well with veterans after all, who would want to wait over 20 years for retirement benefits. This method of repayment was even more controversial with the onset of the Great Depression, which led to staggering unemployment even amongst veterans.

It came to a head on July 28, 1932 when almost 50,000 people marched on Washington DC, and violently demanded that their vouchers be redeemed immediately. They were put down by the National Guard, and their demands were rejected. It wasn&rsquot until 1933, that a solution was found. The veterans were offered jobs in the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps, which took away a lot of their anger.

The so-called Bonus Army, WWI Veterans Demanding their pay. History Channel

So it isn&rsquot at all surprising that the veterans who returned from World War II were treated differently. The voucher system was a complete failure, and is likely one of the causes behind why the Great Depression got so bad, especially for veterans (you can&rsquot spend a voucher, after all).

One of the solutions that was eventually used was legislation called the &ldquoServicemen&rsquos Readjustment Act of 1944.&rdquo It is better known as the G.I. Bill. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill into law on June 22, 1944. The law is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of legislation that was passed in the 20th century.

The G.I. Bill is often given the credit for creating and sustaining the robust middle class that the United States became known for during the second half of the 20th century.

The bill allowed for returning veterans to finish their schooling, through college, with the government footing the bill. It also allowed for low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans for veterans who wanted to start a business, and a full year of unemployment compensation after the veteran&rsquos discharge from the military.

VA Advertisement for the GI Bill 1949. WWNorton

By the time 1956 rolled around, almost 9 million veterans had taken advantage of the G.I. Bill, around 2 million of those used the bill to attend college. The G.I. Bill is considered to have been very successful by historians, and is seen as a major contribution to the economic success of the United States following the end of World War II. It is also seen as one of the contributing factors in the real end of the Great Depression.

The G.I. Bill wasn&rsquot without its faults, however. For-profit colleges, which didn&rsquot really exist in vast numbers before the bill sprang up almost overnight, and took advantage of the Government&rsquos lack of oversight. It would take the government decades to truly oversee where the money from the G.I. Bill was going, and by that time an entire new industry had been created to cheat veterans out of their money for substandard or, in some cases, non-existent education.

Despite those problems, the bill was a success. Compared to the folly that happened after World War I, it was imperative that the US get the benefits for returning soldiers right. If that hadn&rsquot happened, there is no telling where the United States would be today.

The Inequality Hidden Within the Race-Neutral G.I. Bill

While the G.I. Bill itself was progressive, much of the country still functioned under both covert and blatant segregation.

This summer, President Trump stated that an increase in jobs would lessen racial divides and boost race relations, combating the type of tension seen in the Charlottesville protests. History has shown, however, that an increase in employment is not enough to boost the socioeconomic conditions of a minority population. As a case in point, President Roosevelt’s race-neutral G.I. Bill, which went into effect in 1944, had state-controlled pushbacks that kept many black veterans from reaping its full benefits.

A 2006 article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education details the advantages and disadvantages the black population faced when putting the G.I. Bill to use. Edward Humes writes, “[B]lack veterans and their families were denied their fair share of the multigenerational, enriching impact of home ownership and economic security that the G.I. Bill conferred on a majority of white veterans, their children, and their grandchildren.” Such an imbalance went against Roosevelt’s intentions, as he had purposefully created the first social legislation that did not discriminate on the basis of race.

Much of the disparity in the dissemination of G.I. benefits came from the efforts of Representative John Elliot Rankin, who argued for the bill to be “a matter of local control and states’ rights.” In many parts of the U.S., this allowed Veterans Administration counselors to push black veterans into vocational and trade schools instead of academic institutions. “[T]he counselors didn’t merely discourage black veterans. They just said no. No to home loans. No to job placement, except for the most menial positions. And no to college, except for historically black colleges, maintaining the sham of ‘separate but equal’…” According to Humes, 28 percent of white veterans went to college on the G.I. Bill, while only 12 percent of black veterans did so.

The introduction of the G.I. Bill led to an increase in vocational training for both black and white veterans, from just 100 private vocational schools to over 10,000 by 1950. Some of these institutions provided a quality education that would lead to lucrative employment, but many vocational schools emerged merely to accept the plethora of G.I. Bill payments. To make matters worse, this deceit wasn’t limited to white-run programs. Black institutions also took advantage of black veterans. “Programs for black veterans—some of them owned and operated by African Americans—appeared to have been among the most abusive, preying on those veterans most in need of help.”

Weekly Digest

While the bill itself was progressive, much of the country still functioned under both covert and blatant segregation. Therefore, when blacks did receive thorough training, they still weren’t considered for positions that matched their skill set. Humes writes, “86 percent of the skilled, professional, and semiskilled jobs went to white veterans, while 92 percent of the nonskilled and service positions went to black vets.” Blacks were also pushed away from G.I.-sponsored home loans, which enabled white vets to own property that they could then pass down to their children and grandchildren. In the summer of 1947, three thousand VA home loans were issued in Mississippi, with only two of those loans being granted to black veterans.

On the positive side, the G.I. Bill did boost the black middle class in unprecedented ways and would pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement. The resulting legislation of the 1960s put black veterans and civilians one step closer to equal treatment under the law.

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