The Department of Veterans Affairs celebrated the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill at a June 23 event on the George Washington University campus with featured speaker VA Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson.
Originally drafted by The American Legion, the GI Bill (Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944. It enabled about 20 million World War II veterans to buy houses and earn college degrees, thereby helping to create America’s postwar middle class.
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Division, also spoke at the event. He reminded the audience that the GI Bill was “drafted on stationery at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel by Harry Colmery, a World War I veteran and past national commander of The American Legion. The provisions of the GI Bill reflected the input of a committee of prominent Legionnaires.”
Gonzalez quoted Colmery’s own words: “The American Legion proposed this first (GI) bill because we believe it to be the duty, the responsibility, and the desire of our grateful people to see to it that those who served actively in the Armed Services in the war … should be aided in reaching that position which they might normally have expected to achieve, had the war not interrupted their careers.”
Gibson said, “What we’re really celebrating here today (is) lives that are being changed, society being changed, America being changed – all for the better. That’s really what the history of the GI Bill is all about.” Referring to a group of young veterans in the audience, all going to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, he said, “Like the Greatest Generation before you, our latest generation is poised to make their mark on America. And my confident forecast is that you will.”
Responding to a question from the press about the cost of the current GI Bill – $41 billion over five years – Gibson said he couldn’t imagine Congress stepping back from continuing to fund veterans education benefits. “What we’re talking about are successful outcomes for veterans.”
Gonzalez added that “it’s more than just economics; it’s more about the readjustment. The GI Bill, especially now with the drawdown, is more vital than ever to ensure that we continue to have that commitment.”