Wandering into the GI Bill

My job will occasionally have me researching into something I know nothing about. This is super-cool, because research into random stuff is something I enjoy. And it’s one of the best perks of being a writer as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

In this case, it’s not completely random, since the research is often on some issue that’s important to a client NGO/NPO. Since I’m doing the work anyway, I thought it might be interesting to share some of what I find with visitors to this site. I figure I’m not the only one with an interest in… well… everything. To start things off, I’ll talk about the GI Bill.

When World War I ended, discharged veterans got little more than a $60 allowance and train ticket home. Frankly, I can’t imagine the horror of surviving the gas attacks and trench warfare, only to come home to such a miserly and ungrateful welcome. Even worse, the Great Depression was just around the corner, and many veterans found themselves out of work and desperate.

Congress tried to make amends by passing the World War Adjusted Act of 1924 (also called the Bonus Act), but the bonus was structured like a bond and veterans wouldn’t see a dime for 20 years!

In the spring of 1932, a group of 17,000 veterans got together and (with their families and supporters) marched on Washington. This “Bonus Army” wanted their money immediately when it was most needed. They camped out outside the city, but the “real” army was called in to clear them out. Things went horribly wrong – the camp burned, two veterans were killed, and two infants died from tear gas asphyxiation.

In the aftermath of World War II, Congress very much wanted to avoid this kind of tragedy. Not to mention the desire to avoid a similar kind of post-war social and economic downturn. Thus was born the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (more commonly known as the GI Bill).

The GI Bill completely paid for the tuition, text book costs, and living stipend for eight million veterans while they went to college. Another important feature was a low interest, zero down payment home loan. The Veterans Administration backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans. In essence, the program was an amazing act of social engineering. As a result, the government bolstered the creation of the U.S. middle class, shifted the urban/rural geography by providing the means for “white flight” to the suburbs, and instigated a whole set of knock-on effects for the offspring of returning vets. A 1988 Congressional study showed that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the War War II GI Bill added seven dollars to the United States economy in terms of productivity and tax revenue.

Subsequent GI Bills have been shadows of the original with nothing like the original’s effects. The current GI Bill, for example, barely pays for 60% of a public university education, and text books and living stipend are not included. There’s even a kind of buy-in of $1200 that is non-refundable, even if you never use the program. It’s gotten to the point where many veterans forego the benefits even if they’ve paid into it.

While I don’t believe a strengthened GI Bill could have the same effects as the original – the country is in a different place culturally and economically – I do believe it could still have a significant impact. Plus it gives returning veterans an opportunity to re-adjust to civilian life.

If you’re interested, there’s a bill before Congress to update the GI Bill and improve the benefits such that veterans from the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan get the same deal as their World War II brethren. It’s something that the organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is working on, and there’s a petition at the Petition Site.

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~ by Samer on March 28, 2008.

3 Responses to “Wandering into the GI Bill”

  1. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is on board with this, too. I blogged about it today at http://veterans.lohudblogs.com.

  2. Yes, there are 50 co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill (S-22), and the senator from New York is one of them.

  3. Nice info.Added to favourites.

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