Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill

The G.I. Bill provided veterans with readjustment benefits such as unemployment compensation, loan guarantees for purchases of homes, farms, and businesses, and tuition and subsistence for education and training.

Summary of Event

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill, provided economic and educational benefits for World War II veterans. It enabled individuals who had served ninety or more days in the U.S. armed forces after September 16, 1940, to take advantage of readjustment benefits to ease their transition into the civilian economy. The federal government sought to provide temporary help in finding postwar employment, assistance in obtaining educational credentials, and loan guarantees for purchases of homes, farms, and businesses. G.I. Bill
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944)[Servicemens Readjustment Act]
Veterans;G.I. Bill
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];veterans
[kw]Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill (June 22, 1944)
[kw]G.I. Bill, Roosevelt Signs the (June 22, 1944)
[kw]Bill, Roosevelt Signs the G.I. (June 22, 1944)
G.I. Bill
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944)[Servicemens Readjustment Act]
Veterans;G.I. Bill
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];veterans
[g]North America;June 22, 1944: Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill[01200]
[g]United States;June 22, 1944: Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill[01200]
[c]World War II;June 22, 1944: Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill[01200]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;June 22, 1944: Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill[01200]
[c]Economics;June 22, 1944: Roosevelt Signs the G.I. Bill[01200]
Delano, Frederic
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
[p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;veterans
Atherton, Warren
Clark, Joel Bennett
Rankin, John

Between July, 1942, and June, 1944, government agencies, the president, veterans’ groups, and Congress worked out the provisions of the G.I. Bill in a complicated policy-making process. Discussion of readjustment benefits centered on unemployment, federal loan guarantees, and education. Temporary benefits included counseling for return to prewar jobs, job placement—coordinated by a new Veterans’ Placement Service Board working with the U.S. Employment Service and veterans’ centers—and unemployment compensation of $20 per week for a maximum of fifty-two weeks.

Veterans could apply for loan guarantees up to a maximum of 50 percent of a $4,000 loan, payable in full within twenty years, to purchase a home, farm, or business. Loans would be administered through the Veterans Administration Veterans;Veterans Administration, U.S. (VA), which would work with private banks, lending agencies, and businesses. Educational opportunities involved tuition payments up to $500 per year and subsistence allowances of $50 per month for single veterans and $75 per month for married veterans or those with dependents, for a maximum of four years. Through the educational program, veterans could earn high school diplomas, attend trade and business schools, or receive college or graduate school educations.

The G.I. Bill enabled veterans of World War II to become one of the best educated, most prosperous, most successful middle-class generations in U.S. history. During previous wars, the government had made few plans for veterans. From the 1780’s to the 1930’s, land grants for Revolutionary War veterans, pensions for Union troops of the Civil War, and controversial cash bonuses for World War I doughboys had been the extent of federal assistance. Remembering controversial bonus bills in the interwar years, veterans’ lobbying power, and high unemployment during the Depression, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt haltingly began postwar planning in 1942, when the American war effort was still barely underway.

Frederic Delano, head of the National Resources Planning Board National Resources Planning Board (NRPB), made the first overture. In July, 1942, Delano sought the president’s support for postwar planning. Roosevelt denied approval for any public effort but reluctantly assented to the creation of a small interagency group. Between July, 1942, and April, 1943, the NRPB’s Conference on the Post-War Readjustment of Civilian and Military Personnel conducted its work, submitting its final report four days after Congress abolished the NRPB. Recommendations included a postwar full-employment policy and specific educational and reemployment benefits for veterans and war workers.

Roosevelt created the Armed Forces Committee on Postwar Educational Opportunities for Service Personnel (the Osborn Committee Osborn Committee ), knowing that benefits for military veterans would receive a friendly hearing in Congress. Although the president never endorsed any specific group’s proposals, he called publicly for a range of veterans’ benefits in national fireside radio chats on July 28 and October 27, 1943. On the latter date, he submitted the NRPB/Osborn Committee recommendations to Congress, following up with a strong message to Congress on November 23, 1943.

Warren Atherton, national commander of the American Legion American Legion , a veterans’ organization founded in 1919, received instructions at the group’s convention in September, 1943, to appoint a committee to draft a comprehensive veterans’ benefits bill to be presented to Congress. The bill the committee produced included both previous ideas and new provisions for loan guarantees for purchasing homes, farms, and businesses. Promoted as the G.I. Bill of Rights, the American Legion bill restricted unemployment compensation benefits, especially for striking workers, more than had previous federal proposals. Legion officials released the bill on January 8, 1944, and introduced it into Congress two days later.

Congressional hearings and negotiation over an amended Legion bill proceeded with dispatch. Conservative Mississippi Democrat John Rankin, a longtime veterans advocate with close links to the Legion, sponsored the House bill, while maverick Senator Joel Bennett Clark (a Democrat from Missouri) and nine other senators introduced the Senate version.

Between January 10 and March 10, 1944, Clark’s Senate Subcommittee on Veterans’ Legislation Senate Subcommittee on Veterans’ Legislation[Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Legislation] (a subcommittee of the Finance Committee) held nine hearings sessions. Key veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Regular Veterans Association, initially opposed passage, arguing that the bill would overlook disabled veterans in favor of able-bodied ones. A compromise bill incorporating educational provisions of a bill sponsored by Senator Elbert Thomas Thomas, Elbert (a Democrat from Utah) passed the full Senate on March 24, 1944, by a vote of 50 to 0.

Between January and May, 1944, Congressman Rankin’s Committee on World War Legislation House Committee on World War Legislation held sixteen public and nineteen executive sessions. Rankin insisted on changes restricting unemployment benefits for striking workers, so the bill was amended. On May 18, 1944, the full House approved the amended bill by a unanimous vote of 388 to 0. House support included the votes of 149 representatives who were Legion members.

Because the bill passed by the House differed from the Senate version, it was necessary to reconcile the two bills in conference. At first, this proved difficult, but a grassroots letter campaign mounted by the American Legion broke the deadlock in the conference committee. One week after the Allied invasion of France across the English Channel (D day), both houses of Congress unanimously approved the amended compromise bill. President Roosevelt used ten pens to sign the bill into law on June 22, 1944. The final version of the bill provided for VA hospital construction, as well as unemployment compensation, loan guarantees, and educational benefits.

Between 1944 and 1956, millions of veterans used their readjustment benefits to great advantage. In the short term, veterans received help in obtaining work, loans to buy homes, farms, or businesses, and financing for education. In the long term, G.I. Bill expenditures helped promote growth of the postwar mixed economy, improved the educational level of an entire generation, and generated advantages that made World War II veterans part of an expanding middle class.

Unemployment compensation in 1946 and 1947 assisted about one million veterans each year. The readjustment allowances of $20 per week for up to fifty-two weeks led to the permanent reemployment of veterans moving into a postwar economy that many Americans feared would see the return of high unemployment. In limiting the amount and length of compensation, the act marked a retreat from original recommendations, while still establishing the principle that veterans should join the “52-20 Club” while looking for permanent employment.

In 1945 and 1946, the United States suffered a severe housing shortage. Between 1945 and 1955, lending agencies approved 4.3 million home loans totaling $33 billion. About 20 percent of those loans were made possible by the Veterans Administration. Some veterans combined New Deal-era federal mortgage insurance with a VA loan to purchase houses worth as much as $10,000. The postwar baby boom generation, including survivors of the Depression and World War II, saw VA-financed housing as a valuable commodity in the postwar United States.

Guarantees for loans to purchase farms and businesses were among the more controversial of the G.I. Bill’s programs. During the original debate, some argued that small-scale farm ownership through a VA loan made little sense in urban-industrial America. Others feared that unscrupulous business owners would take advantage of veterans interested in going into business for themselves by overstating the prospects of businesses they wanted to sell. Legally, a veteran could use a loan guarantee only to buy into a partnership or to set up a new business. No VA loan money could be used as working capital to pay operating expenses or inventory costs in any business. Small business leaders viewed the idea as an opportunity to regain ground lost to the large industrial manufacturing firms that had dominated wartime defense contracting.

In 1945, more than 12 million Americans served in the armed forces. By 1946, slightly more than 3 million people remained in the services. That fall, more than 1 million veterans enrolled in colleges and universities. Veterans;education Of 15.6 million eligible veterans, 7.8 million obtained education or training under the generous educational provisions of the G.I. Bill. Although only 30 percent of World War II veterans went on to earn college degrees, their numbers included 2,232,000 who were educated under the G.I. Bill. Although perhaps 80 percent of those probably would have gone to college even without the G.I. Bill, some estimates suggest that 20 percent of those graduates could not have afforded a higher education without the G.I. Bill.

G.I. Bill students were the most talented, highly achieving, and oldest college students in U.S. history. Older and married veterans paved the way for later generations in becoming part of the undergraduate and graduate student populations. According to the Veterans Administration, the G.I. Bill helped educate 450,000 engineers, 360,000 teachers, 243,000 accountants, 180,000 physicians, dentists, and nurses, 150,000 scientists, 107,000 lawyers, and 36,000 members of the clergy. Vocational training at private business schools proved more problematic, as millions of dollars were lost through waste, fraud, and early student withdrawals. Some veterans used their benefits to finish interrupted high school programs or received credit for General Educational Development (GED) tests begun during the war.


The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 proved to be among the most successful pieces of economic and social legislation in U.S. history, rivaling the Social Security Act (1935), the National Labor Relations Act (1935), the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938), the 1964 tax cut, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs (1965), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). The complicated policy process leading to the passage and implementation of the G.I. Bill brought together veterans, federal agencies, the president, Congress, veterans’ organizations, and private businesspeople to promote the principles of federal assistance for military veterans and sustained economic growth and prosperity. The bill led to a range of precedent-setting programs in postwar America. More limited versions of the original G.I. Bill would assist veterans of later wars. The Employment Act of 1958 and the social welfare programs of the 1960’s built on the successful precedent of the G.I. Bill.

Over the long term, the G.I. Bill represented the emergence of the postwar mixed economy of increased cooperation between the public and private sectors. By 1956, the federal government had paid out $14.5 billion in G.I. Bill educational benefits, including $5.5 billion in college loans. This investment in the nation’s human capital was on the scale and of the same importance as the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Western European economies, and the 1964 tax cut, which helped spur economic growth. By 1955, the total cost of G.I. Bill programs was at least $20 billion. By 1968, total expenditures had reached $120 billion. In return, the U.S. economy obtained the best-trained workforce in its history. G.I. Bill
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944)[Servicemens Readjustment Act]
Veterans;G.I. Bill
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];veterans

Further Reading

  • Ballard, Jack Stokes. The Shock of Peace: Military and Economic Demobilization After World War II. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1983. Superbly researched narration of U.S. demobilization efforts during and after World War II. Places the G.I. Bill in context with other readjustment measures.
  • Blum, John Morton. V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. The most sophisticated account of mobilization on the home front. Discusses the G.I. Bill in the light of congressional politics, weakening of New Deal reforms, and Roosevelt’s 1944 “Economic Bill of Rights.” The epilogue gives a moving picture of returning veterans.
  • Greenberg, Milton. The G.I. Bill: The Law That Changed America. Foreword by Bob Dole. New York: Lickle, 1997. Companion volume to a documentary aired on public television; explains the broad effects of the law—both intended and unintended—on the course of American history. Index.
  • Mettler, Suzanne. Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Focuses on the role of the G.I. Bill in shaping the economy, culture, and identity of Americans in the decades following World War II. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Mosch, Theodore R. The G.I. Bill: A Breakthrough in Educational and Social Policy in the United States. Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1975. Overview of educational sections of G.I. bills of 1944, 1952, and 1966. Valuable tables. Mosch discusses state as well as national programs and includes comparison of U.S. veterans’ benefits with those in other countries.
  • Olson, Keith W. The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974. The best study of educational aspects of the G.I. Bill, with topical chapters including excellent summaries of the origins of the G.I. Bill, a case study of the University of Wisconsin, and a conclusion comparing the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War-era G.I. bills.
  • Pencak, William. For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919-1941. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1989. The first scholarly history of the American Legion in its formative years of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Chapter 7, “Veterans Benefits and Adjusted Compensation,” gives background on the bonus for World War I veterans and how it affected the provisions of the Legion’s omnibus bill, which in amended form became the G.I. Bill.
  • Perrett, Geoffrey. Days of Sadness, Years of Triumph: The American People, 1939-1945. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. Reprint. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986. The most comprehensive history of the American home front. Written in a lively style, packed with information, and persuasive in showing the period as “the last great collective social experience” in American history. One of the few histories to show the significance of the G.I. Bill in both the short and long terms.
  • Ross, Davis R. B. Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans During World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. The most comprehensive analysis of veterans’ benefits, including mustering out pay, the G.I. Bill, demobilization, reconversion, and housing. Ross’s view of the complicated policy-making process makes this work the single best account of the G.I. Bill. The concluding chapter is the best summary of the ways in which World War II veterans were treated better than those of other wars.
  • Severo, Richard, and Lewis Milford. The Wages of War: When America’s Soldiers Came Home—from Valley Forge to Vietnam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. Severo, a reporter for The New York Times nominated several times for the Pulitzer Prize, and Milford, a onetime lawyer for the National Veterans Law Center in Washington, D.C., provide a comprehensive review of the postwar treatment of military veterans over the sweep of U.S. history, helping to place the exceptional positive case of World War II veterans in proper historical perspective.

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