If you went to war for the U.S. before World War II, you were left to your own devices for education, housing and job training when you returned to civilian life. It wasn’t exactly easy, because college and homeownership weren’t attainable dreams for the average American at the time.
The GI Bill is considered one of the most significant pieces of federal legislation ever produced.
While it’s been extended and adjusted several times since, here’s the gist of just how transformative this bill was at the time.
During World War II, U.S. leaders realized that nearly 16 million American men and women who were serving in the armed forces would be unemployed when the war finally ended, and that this could cause another depression and widespread economic instability similar to the aftereffects of the 1929 stock market crash. To prevent that, experts studied the issue and recommended a series of education and training programs.
On Jan. 10, 1944, Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed it into law June 22, just over two weeks after the Allied invasion of Normandy. It was dubbed the GI Bill of Rights because it offered federal aid to help veterans buy homes, get jobs and pursue an education, and in general helped them to adjust to civilian life again.
The assistance the bill provided for tuition, books, supplies, counseling services and a living allowance caused postwar college and vocational school attendance to jump exponentially. It also kept millions of vets from flooding the job market all at one time.
We’ve all heard of the infamous baby boom that happened after World War II, when millions of veterans returned home to get married and start families. But because they did so in record numbers, they faced a severe housing shortage.
A home loan provision of the GI Bill helped with that immensely. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans worth $33 billion had been granted to veterans, who were responsible for buying 20 percent of all new homes built after the war. The boom had a ripple effect across the economy, warding off any concerns of a new depression and creating unparalleled prosperity for a generation.
President George H.W. Bush summed up the impact of the bill in 1990 by saying, “the GI Bill changed the lives of millions by replacing old roadblocks with paths of opportunity.”
The GI Bill was extended several times, helping 10.3 million more veterans after the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 2008, a version known as the Post 9/11 GI Bill passed Congress, and more recently, the Forever GI Bill expanded benefits for vets.
There are a few versions from which to choose nowadays, with the most-used being the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since its implementation in August 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided educational benefits to nearly 800,000 veterans and their families totaling more than $12 billion.