Signed on 22 June 1944, the GI Bill paid for college tuition and vocational training and provided students with housing and medical benefits. Other aspects of the bill made available low-interest loans guaranteed by the federal government for mortgages and starting businesses. Unemployed veterans received cash payments. Supporters sought to use the program to empower veterans through education and training, thus making them less dependent on corporations, unions, or—in the long run—the federal government. The bill had the support of veterans' groups such as the American Legion, which helped to draft the legislation, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The Hearst newspapers also lent their support.
The GI Bill had motives beyond showing the nation's gratitude to returning veterans. Remembering the plight of World War I veterans and the ignoble episode of the 1932 Bonus Army—when some 20,000 World War I veterans, impoverished by the Great Depression, converged on Washington in 1932 in the hope of collecting their adjusted compensation bonuses immediately rather than in 1945 as legislated—the bill aimed to ease veterans into the workplace slowly. Many economists and politicians feared that if 12 million veterans descended on the job market at the same time, the United States might return to economic depression. By placing some veterans in schools and supporting the desires of others to start small businesses, the GI Bill sought to lessen these pressures.
The GI Bill had a long and lasting influence on American society. More than 1 million veterans attended colleges and universities using the bill's benefits, and more than 8 million veterans used one or more of its programs. The bill underwrote more than 3.5 million mortgages, and in 1947 it funded almost 40 percent of all housing starts in the United States. The GI Bill thus helped to fuel the postwar economic boom by stimulating the construction industry and all of its subsidiary industries. It also provided enormous cash infusions into American colleges and universities. Since World War II, the U.S. government has enacted various legislation offering GI Bill–type benefits to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as to some members of the peacetime military.
Michael S. Neiberg
Bennett, Michael. When Dreams Came True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America. Dulles, VA: Brassey's, 1996.; Olson, Keith. The G.I. Bill, Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.; Ross, Davis. Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans during World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.