AFPS Blog: New GI Bill Will Make Huge Impact
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2009 If history is any guide, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill may be the most effective piece of legislation Congress ever has passed.
The new GI Bill that President Barack Obama signed in June went into effect Aug. 1. It is aimed at giving today’s servicemembers the same benefit that warriors from past wars received.
The World War II GI Bill gave veterans unprecedented educational opportunities. The bill provided money for college, training and homes. The generation that came of age in the Depression and during the war took to the benefit like fish to water.
I was privileged to attend the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers in 2004. The ceremony on June 5 was held at the drop zone for the 101st Airborne Division outside the town of Ste. Mere Eglise. Veterans of the drop -- then in their late 70s and early 80s -- attended.
The reporters traveling with Myers spoke with many of the veterans, and one in particular I remember. A reporter made the statement to one 101st Airborne vet that dropping into Normandy on June 6, 1944, was probably the high point of his life. The man thought a bit and said (as best I can recollect), “I like to think I did more with my life. I helped put a man on the moon, too.”
When the veteran got out of the service in 1946, he attended college using the GI Bill. He received an engineering degree from Cornell University and went to work at Grumman on Long Island where he helped design the lunar lander.
Could he have done this without the GI Bill? No way, the man said. College wasn’t an option for anyone in his family, he said. It was too expensive.
But the GI Bill paid for his education and gave him enough to live on -- in fact, he got married while in college. The GI Bill also helped him finance his first home, and one of his sons used the Vietnam-era legislation to go to college.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, just over half of the servicemembers from World War II used the GI Bill’s educational benefits. Still, that means roughly 7.8 million men and women were able to tap into an educational opportunity that otherwise probably wouldn’t be available.
The success of the GI Bill encouraged lawmakers who introduced legislation for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam eras. After the Korean War, 2.4 million servicemembers used GI Bill benefits and 7.8 million veterans of Vietnam. In fact, 75 percent of Vietnam vets used the educational benefit to some extent.
Since the GI Bill went into effect, servicemembers have used $83.6 billion for education and training benefits. The GI Bill was much more than a simple give-away. The men and women who used the bill bettered their situations. They earned more money and contributed more to America than just their service during war. They formed the largest middle class the world has ever seen and paved the way for post-war prosperity.
Along the way, they introduced a few things to the world -- computers, television, artificial hearts, satellites, rocketry and countless other discoveries, inventions and processes.
The money invested in educating and training generations of Americans has made the United States a leader of the world. This was not lost on President Barack Obama when he spoke at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Aug. 3.
“The contributions that our servicemen and women can make to this nation do not end when they take off that uniform,” he said. “We owe a debt to all who serve. And when we repay that debt to those bravest Americans among us, then we are investing in our future -- not just their future, but also the future of our own country.”
No one can tell how the investment in the new GI Bill will pay off for America and the world. The servicemembers in the military today are all volunteers and have already proven to be among the most motivated and goal-oriented members of their generation.
Perhaps when some vet is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom he or she can say, “It was a highlight of my life, but I also helped put a man on Mars.”