GI Bill of Rights: History of the GI Bill
2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the GI Bill. Here’s a look at how transformative the GI Bill has been over the past seventy-five years.
What is the GI Bill of Rights?
Originally, the GI Bill was called the GI Bill of Rights and offered federal aid to help veterans buy homes, get jobs and pursue an education. The assistance bill provided for books, supplies, counseling services, a living allowance, and of course tuition. The result of this was that postwar college and vocational school attendance jumped exponentially which kept veterans from flooding the job market all at one time.
Over the years, the GI Bill has been extended several times. The GI Bill helped 10.3 million veterans after the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In 2008, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was passed by Congress and implemented in 2009. Since then, the Department of Veteran Affairs has provided educational benefits to nearly 800,000 veterans and their families, totaling more than $12 billion.
Veterans can choose from a few versions of the GI Bill today, such as choosing between the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill. The Forever GI Bill, signed into law in 2017, expanded even more benefits for veterans starting in 2018, with future updates in the years to come.
The Different Versions of the GI Bill
Over the last 75 years we have seen the GI Bill come and go; expand and contract and expand once again. Each version of the GI Bill was created in a different era with a unique set of circumstances and different outcomes in mind.
It is important to step back and look at the changes over the year’s to help provide context for understanding just how great the new Forever GI Bill is for those who qualify.
GI Bill 1.0 – The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944
The original GI Bill, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, was created to help returning WWII veterans rejoin the civilian workforce.
On January 10th, 1944, Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill, more commonly referred to as the GI Bill, into law in June of 1944. Originally titled, the GI Bill of Rights, it was signed about two weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy in France.
After World War II
After World War II, 16 million Americans who had been serving their country would be unemployed when the war ended. The worry was that this would cause another depression and widespread economic instability similar to what happened in 1929 during the stock market crash. Experts studied the issue and recommended adding educational and training programs to help.
Before this point, the military didn’t offer any help for education, housing, or job training to help after military life was over. The GI Bill changed this and ended up being one of the most significant pieces of federal legislation.
The law provided financial assistance, housing, training, and education to help veterans quickly become part of the communities they had gone to war to protect. Most historians agree that the economic boom experienced in the 1950’s was due to the GI Bill.
The original GI Bill offered the following benefits:
- Government Guaranteed loans for Homes, Farms, and starting a Small Business
- Education and Vocational Training
- A $20 a week Unemployment Benefit
- Job Counseling
- Medical Care
The Original GI Bill expired in 1956, but at that time more than 6 million veterans had been served by the program.
The goal of the original GI Bill of Rights was to help those who served in WWII and the Korean War an opportunity to reenter the civilian workforce, often at a higher socioeconomic level.
The Effects of the GI Bill
According to federal statistics, during the first seven years of the GI Bill’s use, 8 million veterans took advantage of what it had to offer.
As a result, the program doubled the amount of university degree holders and within 50 years, the number of Americans with advanced degrees rose nearly 20%.
By 1956, when the Bill first expired, almost half of the 16 million World War II veterans had received their education because of the GI Bill.
Buying a Home
Another result of so many coming home from the war was that so many of the veterans got married and started families, basically known as the Baby Boom and creating the Baby Boom generation. Because of this, there ended up being a housing shortage.
Veterans were responsible for buying 20% of all new homes built after the war because of the Home Loan provision in the GI Bill, commonly referred to as the VA Loan. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans worth $33 billion had been granted to veterans.
This had a ripple effect across the economy, creating unparalleled prosperity for a generation as well as taking away fears of another Great Depression.
GI Bill 2.0 Beta – The Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP)
After the Vietnam War and the end of the draft, the U.S. military became an “all-volunteer” force. It was also a low point in civilian support for the military and a difficult environment for military recruiting.
So, in 1977 the Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP) was born. VEAP was was never really considered a GI Bill program, but it provided an education benefit for servicemembers and was administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VEAP was also a low point in military education benefits. It provided limited benefits that required servicemembers to contribute up to $2,700 and in return they received $8,100 to help cover their education. The program that only offered a 2-for-1 return was never very well received.
GI Bill 3.0 – The Montgomery GI Bill
In 1984, former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery proposed a revived version of the GI Bill, which has been known as the “Montgomery GI Bill” (or MGIB) ever since. The MGIB was created, in part, to insure that veterans of the Vietnam War could receive higher education opportunities, since the original GI Bill had expired years before.
The MGIB originally offered veterans a little less than a $1000 a month to go to school full-time for up to 36 months (the equivalent of four academic years). Today the MGIB pays nearly $2,000 a month, which still isn’t much.
However, like the VEAP program, servicemembers must opt-in and commit to pay $1,200 to participate in the MGIB. The MGIB does not pay a monthly housing allowance or book stipend and it doesn’t allow members to transfer their benefits to a spouse of dependent child. The MGIB came with a 10 year expiration date, meaning a vet has only up to 10 years after leaving the service to use the benefits.
In addition to providing assistance for Vietnam veterans, the MGIB became a means to improve military recruiting and retention efforts, and it proved to be much more successful in that arena than its predecessor.
GI Bill 4.0 – The Veterans Educational Assistance Act (a.k.a. Post 9/11 GI Bill)
In 2008 Congress passed the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which gave veterans on active duty on September 11, 2001 or after greater educational benefits.
The program was a huge improvement over the MGIB. In addition to increasing the month rates for tuition at private colleges and universities, the Post 9/11 added a housing stipend, up to $1000 annual book stipend, up to 100% tuition coverage at public colleges and universities, and the ability to transfer benefits to a spouse or dependent child.
The Post 9/11 does not require members to make a contribution, but it did originally come with a 15-year expiration, which was later amended for those who served after January 1, 2013. In addition, this version expanded the opportunity to include more types of education, certification, and vocation training programs.
Each veterans level of benefits is determined on a scale based on the number of months served on active duty, with 36 months equating to 100% of the benefits and a minimum of 40% for those with 90 days of active service.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill ensures that those who have served since 2011 have the tools needed to reintegrate into the civilian workforce while giving recruiters a tangible benefit to offer the next generation of servicemembers.
GI Bill 4.1 – The Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (The Forever GI Bill)
The Forever GI Bill was signed into law in 2017. This version is essentially an improvement package for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. So now the GI Bill no longer comes with an expiration date, it offers increase vocational flexibility, and it the eligibility was expanded to include some reservists that were not originally eligible.
So, it seems we have made it full circle, from the high watermark of the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 through the low tide of VEAP, back to the Forever GI Bill. The GI Bill of Rights has definitely transformed, as well having been transformative for so many.
About the author
Julie Provost is a freelance writer, blogger, and owner of Soldier's Wife, Crazy Life, a support blog for military spouses. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.