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The GI Bill was a groundbreaking piece of legislation passed in the United States shortly after the Second World War. Many historians credit the GI Bill with averting an economic and social crisis, by helping veterans integrate back into American society, rather than simply discharging them with minimal assistance, as happened in the First World War. The GI Bill laid the groundwork for later bills designed to secure benefits and assistance for veterans. Current benefits are distributed under the Montgomery GI Bill, which operates very differently than the original GI Bill but offers many of the same benefits.
The official name for the GI Bill is the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, although many people colloquially called it the “GI Bill of Rights.” The bill was passed because many members of the government recalled the events of the First World War, and they did not want a repeat. World War One veterans were discharged with a train ticket and a small sum of money, and many of them struggled to find homes and jobs. During the Depression, many of these men experienced serious economic hardships, which resulted in a march on the capital to request benefits. Since many members of the public viewed these veterans are heroes, this event did not reflect well on the federal government.
Therefore, as World War Two was drawing to a close, discussions about benefits for veterans began in the House and Senate, sparked by a proposal made by President Roosevelt, who had also sponsored a large amount of New Deal legislation. The President wanted to ease the transition of veterans into society, in the hopes that the national economy and general quality of life in the United States would improve as a result. After some debate, a version of the GI Bill was passed by Congress, and the President signed it into law on 22 June 1944. In a remarkable act of forward thinking, the GI Bill applied to all people who had served in the war, including African Americans and women.
The bill included a well known provision for education; under the GI Bill, veterans could attend college or vocational school with government assistance. This dramatically increased college enrollment in the United States, and it elevated the general level of education for Americans. It also reduced the potential of a flooded job market, as veterans received education and then trickled into the job market as skilled workers, rather than mobbing it upon their return from the war.
The GI Bill also offered very low interest home loans with no money down to veterans, increasing the overall rate of home ownership in the United States and creating a solid middle class. In addition, benefits were offered to unemployed veterans while they sought work, ensuring that a repeat of the benefits marches of the 1930s would not occur. The GI Bill was so successful that it was used as a model for future legislation, and it is widely considered to be one of the most socially progressive pieces of legislation in the United States during the 20th century.
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