GI Bill’s 75th birthday celebrated in U.S. Capitol
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visit with American Legion Past National Commander Denise Rohan at Wednesday’s reception in the U.S. Capitol to honor the 75th anniversary of the signing of the GI Bill. Photo by Jeff Stoffer

GI Bill’s 75th birthday celebrated in U.S. Capitol

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House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., made a promise Wednesday inside the U.S. Capitol Building. “The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will continue to work to improve the GI Bill and ensure that no veterans are robbed of their benefits or denied their benefits. We are there to protect their benefits.”

Takano was among hundreds who gathered in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to help The American Legion and Student Veterans of America celebrate the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Takano’s message was about the role Congress continues to play to ensure that GI Bill benefits are properly overseen and never eroded, as they have been at various times over the last 75 years. “The GI Bill must remain a resource that helps our veterans at home. We cannot let it become a tool for exploitation.”

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., former chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and now ranking member on that committee, reflected on American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery, who drafted the GI Bill on Mayflower Hotel stationery in December 1943. “I bet Harry Colmery had no idea how transformational this GI Bill would be.”

Before he spoke, Roe read every panel of “The Greatest Legislation: An American Legion Centennial Salute to the GI Bill” exhibit that has toured the nation in recognition of the organization’s 100th anniversary. “I didn’t know Congressman Gibson, but I think I would have really liked that guy,” Roe said of the Georgia House member who was rushed back to Washington at the last minute to cast the vote that brought the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 out of a deadlocked conference committee on June 10, 1944; otherwise the GI Bill would have died there.

“Nurses, doctors – at least a third of the doctors in 1950 were trained by the GI Bill,” Roe said. “It’s remarkable what that meant for America. Twenty-five million of our citizens used that to make our country a better place.” He said the Post 9/11 GI Bill “will be as transformational as the World War II GI Bill was.”

Roe explained how the GI Bill personally helped him and his young family after he got out of the service and thanked Takano, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Tom Carper, D-Del., for joining him in introducing a resolution in Congress to recognize the GI Bill “and its importance on American society.”

Roe and Takano agreed that the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which continues to evolve after its 2008 reboot, represents more than tuition benefits. “We thank veterans for their service, not with words but with actions, by fighting to close the gaps in opportunity and mitigating the disadvantages they faced because they chose to serve their country,” Takano said. “It is incumbent upon Congress to ensure that GI Bill funding provides the reintegration and readjustment opportunities for veterans, not only as stewards of taxpayer money, but also to fulfill the promise we made to our servicemembers.”

American Legion Past National Commander Denise Rohan added that the GI Bill represents “what can happen when ordinary Americans participate in a democracy. The world can change.

Ordinary Americans set the priorities, drafted the legislation, gained support from Congress – and even the media at the time – and fought off critics to get the original GI Bill passed and made into law.

“As this American Legion centennial display describes, these ordinary Americans identified the problem, came up with a solution, convinced the nation it was the right solution and then nurtured it over the decades.”

Student Veterans of America President and CEO Jared Lyon saluted the “greatest generation” of World War II veterans who used the GI Bill to drive the U.S. economy in the second half of the 20th century and “the empowerment of this transformational legislation.” He explained that nearly 77 percent of post-9/11 veterans today are either pursuing college degrees or already have them because of the GI Bill. “We are coming home, succeeding and thriving. We have the potential of being the next greatest generation. This legislation empowers that.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attended the ceremony on Capitol Hill and paid specific attention to the pen President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to sign the GI Bill in 1944, on display by The American Legion. “Isn’t that a treasure? What that pen unleashed in the lives of our veterans, their families and the vitality of our country.”

Pelosi added that the GI Bill is a continuous process, one war era to the next, a key message of the traveling centennial display. “The veterans of World War I were instrumental in helping the veterans of World War II. The veterans of World War II were instrumental in helping veterans of subsequent wars. Isn’t that the way it should be?”