The GI Bill of Rights, officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, is one of the most important pieces service-related legislation passed to help those in uniform. The act grew to become known as the GI Bill and it evolved greatly over time, but almost didn’t pass thanks to a series of disagreements over how it should be designed.
Since 1944 various provisions of the bill have come and gone, but the amendments that have created the present day GI Bill have made life in uniform a much different proposition.
Before The GI Bill Of Rights
Those leaving military service after World War One found themselves offered little more than some money (under $100) and a train ticket home. Upon the onset of the Great Depression, a bill called the World War Adjusted Act of 1924, also known as the Bonus Act.
The intent of this legislation was to pay veterans a bonus calculated by the number of days spent serving. But payments were not intended to be made right away and created a great amount of dissatisfaction among vets who needed money right away. After a confrontation in 1932 in Washington D.C. (including a standoff between troops and angry veterans), it was clear that something more needed to be done.
1944: The Year The GI Bill Of Rights Is Born
Harry W. Colmery created the first draft of the GI Bill of Rights, which was introduced in the House and Senate in January of 1944. Once the bill was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Veterans Administration would be charged with executing the bill’s provisions to offer veterans unemployment pay, funds for education and training, loan guaranty for homes, plus other loans for farms and businesses.
Context is important when evaluating the impact of the GI Bill of Rights; at this stage in American history, a college education was not part of the plan for many veterans until funds were made available for veterans to explore the option.
A Big Response To The GI Bill Of Rights
Once the GI Bill of Rights passed, it wouldn’t be long before approximately 49% of college admissions were, according to the VA official site, comprised of veterans using the GI Bill. Some statistics provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs state just under half of the 16 million veterans of World War II took advantage of GI Bill education opportunities.
The End Of The GI Bill Of Rights
The original GI Bill of Rights signed into law in 1944, officially expired on July 25, 1956.
In hindsight, some feel the end of the original GI Bill did military members a disservice. When it comes to education and training help, the GI Bill is quite invaluable, but some other aspects of the original legislation were surprisingly under-utilized.
The original GI Bill of Rights offer of unemployment assistance, for example, was one of the more controversial aspects of the program, but also rarely used and (according to VA.gov) accounted for 20% or less of the funds set aside for the GI Bill.
Under the now-expired GI Bill of Rights, business loans, farm loans, and other older provisions are no longer available, but changes to the program such as the Montgomery GI Bill ensured that the education and training aspects of the program survived long after other parts of the program were shut down.
1984: Year Of The Montgomery GI Bill
A former Mississippi Congressman, Gillespie Montgomery, introduced revamped GI Bill legislation that has been known as the “Montgomery GI Bill” ever since it passed. The Montgomery GI Bill provided government funds for public institutions to veterans who signed up for the program in basic training. The veteran agreed to have a small amount of money deducted from the new recruit’s paycheck to buy into the program-$100 a month for the first 12 months of service in exchange for 36 months of fully-funded education at an approved school.
Under the Montgomery GI Bill, veterans had ten years following the end of military service to use the benefit. Military members could choose to pay an additional $600 into the program to receive an extra $5,400 in GI Bill funds.
2008: The Post 9/11 GI Bill
Following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, pressure mounted to enhance services and benefits for veterans. After several years of news reports detailing the sacrifices and hardships of military families, lawmakers passed the Post 9/11 GI Bill to provide more post-military education and training opportunities to service members and their dependents.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is unique in that it contains provisions for the transfer of GI Bill education benefits from the military member to spouses and dependent children eligible to attend college. The ability to transfer GI Bill benefits was something long hoped for, but the program has stipulations to be aware of. Eligible spouses are able to start using the GI Bill immediately once the transfer is successful, but dependent children can only access GI Bill transfer benefits when the service member reaches 10 years of service or more.
2017: The Forever GI Bill
In 2017, another modification of the GI Bill was signed into law, featuring some of the most sweeping changes to the program since it began. The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act gives military members greater access to GI Bill funds and more time to use them, as well as offering expanded options.
The previous 15 year time limit to use Post 9/11 GI Bill funds is no longer applicable; according to the VA official site, this applies “…for individuals whose last discharge or release from active duty is on or after January 1, 2013, children of deceased Service members who first become entitled to Post-9/11 GI Bill program benefits on or after January 1, 2013, and all Fry spouses.” All other service members and their families remain subject to the current 15-year time limitation for using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Other important changes to the Forever GI Bill include the addition of a rule allowing Yellow Ribbon coverage for spouses and dependents eligible to use the Fry Scholarship. As of August 1, 2018, dependents can apply for the Yellow Ribbon program to offset costs at approved non-public institutions charging more than the state school tuition rates covered by the GI Bill.
Other important changes in the Forever GI Bill:
- STEM program benefits are now available to those taking courses in authorized tech, science, and medical career fields. Requirements to receive nine months of additional Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits include, but are not limited to having little or no current GI Bill benefits left, and are enrolled in a program for a standard college degree in approved STEM-type science/math/medical programs.
- Some types of work-study are now permanently authorized and no longer have to be reviewed.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs is “authorized to restore benefits and provide relief” for veterans using the GI Bill are affected by school closures or VA disapprovals.
- Reservists eligible for the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) and lost benefits (due to the REAP “sunset provision”) may have their military service credited toward the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
- Veterans and dependents can now use their Post-9/11 educational benefits to take accredited independent study programs at schools not considered institutions of higher learning such as career and technical schools offering post-secondary level education/vocational training.
- GI Bill students may use their benefits at an accredited independent study program at an area career and technical school, or a postsecondary vocational school providing postsecondary level education. According to the VA official site, there is no action to take in such cases, “as these programs will go through the normal course of approval by the appropriate State Approving Agency“. There may be new programs added, potential students should compare them using the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool.
- The VA plans to bring the VetSuccess on Campus program to colleges nationwide.