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From Normandy Beach to Silicon Valley, This One Piece of Legislation Has Helped Transform Our Veterans and Our Nation for 70 Years

In the beginning, on June 22, 1944, it was called The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. We know it best by its common name, the GI Bill, and it has served the nation well.

The GI Bill was enacted 70 years ago, to provide a wide range of benefits for Veterans who were returning home from WWII. Among the benefits offered by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act were low-cost home loans and education and vocational training. This Act would prove astoundingly successful for those WWII returning Veterans. Of the 16 million returning Veterans, 8 million took advantage of the educational benefits. Never before had so many been able to receive college educations, for it was out of reach for most financially in those days. Because of this GI Bill and because to the character of those who fought and served — who in their youth had also endured the deprivations of the Great Depression — these Veterans would go on to help create a golden age of economic growth.

Those Veterans helped to bring the nation to its highest levels of prosperity through their entrepreneurial skills, their technological inventive genius, and their commitment to make the world a better place. They were called the Greatest Generation not just because of their tenacity in surviving the Great Depression, or for their courage and success in winning the fight against Nazi Socialism and Japanese Imperialism in during WWII, but also because of what they did with their lives upon returning home after the war. The GI Bill made much of that possible.

Later wars, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars would bring further expansion to the GI Bill. The educational benefits have been used by many of the Veterans from those wars as well.

Patrol descends the side of Hill 742

A Personal Experience

I am a product of the GI Bill myself. On returning from Vietnam, as a result of the tenor of the nation and our difficult return home in those times, I went into a shell. Having served as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman with Bravo Co. 3rd Recon Bn, 3rd Marines in Khe Sanh and Quang Tri from January 1968 – February 1969, I just stayed out of the way and got jobs that my military skill set made available to me. I was a hospital orderly, or an emergency room tech, or I worked for an ambulance company. They were all dead-end jobs. But I was enduring my own battles with PTSD, and I could get lost, at least for a time, in work that I understood.

Subsequently, I met and married my wife who was a “candy striper” volunteer at the hospital I was working at at the time. We moved to Seattle, Washington, and I again took a job at a local hospital in the emergency room. About six months into our marriage, I got it in my head to walk down to the local community college to see if I could take some classes. Make a long story short, I was accepted, and my college career began.

I was introduced to the GI Bill at that time by a counselor at the community college. It made everything possible. I was given a monthly stipend that was more than enough to cover the tuition at the community college and have most of it left over. With my wife working and the GI Bill coming in, I was able to concentrate on my education. I finished my AA in English in just over a year by overloading my class load each quarter, and then transferred to a four-year, private university nearby where I finished my BA degree in just over a year again. Though my monthly stipend from the GI BIll was not large enough to pay for the entire tuition at the private university, it was helpful. I was also able to get a work-study job at the local VA hospital, and I completed my BA in just under three years.

“In the end, because of the GI Bill and its educational benefits, I had very little student loan debt upon graduating with my Masters degree.”

In my time, the GI Bill educational benefits had to be used within a 10-year time frame after your discharge from the military. I started late in that ten year period, but was able to finish my BA and to start a Masters Degree program with help from the GI Bill, at least for the first year of it. I took my Masters Degree at the university I had graduated from with my BA. I was also working for the university in the Admissions Office at the time, so I was able to get an 85% discount on the tuition, which made it possible for the GI Bill to pay for most of the rest of it. In the end, because of the GI Bill and its educational benefits, I had very little student loan debt upon graduating with my Masters degree.

From College Classrooms to First Family Home

I was also able to use the GI Bill to buy my first house. Since its inception, the GI Bill housing benefits have been expanded to include help in repairing, retaining, or for adapting homes for wounded veterans. There have been over 20 million VA home loans guaranteed under the GI Bill, and nearly 90% of them are made with no down payment. That is how I was able to purchase my first home at a time when my salary was still low and my wife and I had begun a family.

The GI Bill has benefited not just the Veterans who took the opportunities to use it but society as well. It continues to offer those benefits to the newest veterans of our latest wars. The VAs new eBenefits Veterans Employment Center is the first online interagency website that brings together, in one place, public and private job opportunities, as well as resume-building and other career tools. Veterans, transitioning servicemembers, and their spouses are able to be connected through this eBenefits portal to high quality career choices by matching their skills with available public and private job opportunities.

If you are a veteran, or are just now transitioning out of the military back into civilian life, or a spouse of one, I encourage you to look into, and to use fully, any and all of the benefits that the GI BIll offers to you. You deserve them and they are there for you to take advantage of. Don’t waste them. They will give you the chance to create your own opportunities in your life.

The GI Bill has served our Veterans and the nation well for 70 years now. To all who have served and who are serving today, I encourage you to utilize this great set of benefits. You’ll be happy that you did. I certainly am.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.