June 22nd was a momentous day for service members and veterans alike. It was the 72nd birthday of something that almost never came to fruition – the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 or more commonly known as the GI Bill.

At the end of World War I in 1918, most returning veterans received a $60 bonus and transportation home; once home, they were on their own. From that auspicious beginning, the desire to help veterans began to grow.

In 1924, Congress passed the World War Adjusted Act of 1924. It was supposed to pay veterans based on the number of days served. While Congress’ heart was in the right place, most veterans didn’t see any money until 20 years later.

Coming out of World War II, Congress again saw a chance to help returning veterans. With millions coming home and jobless, and vivid memories from the Great Depression still fresh in everyone’s mind, it was more than just helping veterans; it could prevent another collapse of the economy.

While most in Congress were on board with the education assistance and home loan guarantee portions of the Act, some questioned whether combat-hardened veterans should attend college – something previously reserved for the rich. Others questioned the unemployment provision. Would a $20 per week unemployment payment negate the incentive to look for work?

A Compromise for Education

Despite not agreeing on various parts of the Act, Congress did agree they needed to do something for returning veterans. In the end, the Act passed intact and President Roosevelt signed the first actual veterans’ GI Bill into law on June 22, 1944. As a result, millions jumped at the chance for an education. By 1947, 49% of the college students were veterans.

The next big change to the GI Bill came in 1984 when Congressman Sonny Montgomery from Mississippi introduced legislation to update the original Act; out of that legislation came into law the Montgomery GI Bill. Despite a few minor changes over the years, this GI Bill is still a popular option and one being used extensively today. The education portion pays a fixed monthly fee to veterans attending school and they in turn, have to pay their own tuition, fees and books from the amount they receive.

The last major change to the GI Bill came in 2008 when the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed. With its sweeping changes, came the Yellow Ribbon Program, tuition paid directly to the school by the VA, housing and book stipends paid to veterans, and a transfer of benefits option to dependents – something never before available on a widespread basis. The other major benefit – it was free just for serving 90 days or more on active duty. The Montgomery GI Bill required (and still requires) paying a $1,200 “contribution fee.”

A benefit under fire

While the GI Bill of today puts veterans lightyears ahead of their early brethren, the road is still not smooth. Every legislative session brings about proposed changes that if passed would take away or reduce certain benefits of the GI Bill. That is not expected to change anytime soon.

But still, the GI Bill is a welcomed benefit for service members and veterans that allows them to get a post-secondary education without racking up the student debt that many non-veterans have at the time they graduate. Happy birthday GI Bill!

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.