Knowing what we know today about the tremendous benefits of the GI Bill, it is difficult to imagine that 75 years ago, some members of Congress opposed the measure. The GI Bill nearly died in committee because some lawmakers weren’t convinced it was wise to send millions of World War II veterans to college.
Good ideas frequently are like that. They make amazing sense to the visionaries who conceive them, but the rest of us may not grasp the wisdom until we’ve seen the idea in action.
What seemed like a nonsensical idea to some lawmakers delivered far more than its sponsors could haver imagined.
After they won World War II, U.S. veterans laid down their arms, picked up a pile of books and headed off to college. The GI Bill paid for their education, and millions of them took advantage of the opportunity, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
The original GI Bill expired in 1956. By then, 7.8 million out of 16 million World War II veterans had tapped the GI Bill for an education or training. Many also used the GI Bill’s home loan guaranty. From 1944 to 1952, the Veterans Administration backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans.
Robert L. Wilkie, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, this week noted what a tremendous benefit the GI Bill has been for veterans and our nation: “Although unemployment benefits were included in the bill, less than 20 percent of the money allocated for that benefit was used. Instead, veterans took the long view by investing in themselves. Almost half of those who returned from the battlefield, 7.8 million, used the GI Bill to go to college, trade school or business or agricultural training. And America changed in lasting ways.”
According to Wilkie, Life magazine reported in 1947 that veterans were doing better in college than their non-veteran counterparts.
The GI Bill has been updated several times to refine its benefits. Universities and community colleges help veterans apply for their educational benefits. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Bill into law.
Americans know their military veterans are a good investment and that they’ll continue enriching their nation by equipping themselves with important civilian knowledge and skills.
Wilkie said it well: “What we’ve really learned is this: When America invests in veterans, everyone wins.”