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Recognizing the 60th Anniversary of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944

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Location: Washington, DC


RECOGNIZING THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SERVICEMEN'S READJUSTMENT ACT OF 1944 -- (House of Representatives - May 11, 2004)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the joint resolution (H.J. Res. 91) recognizing the 60th anniversary of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, House Joint Resolution 91 would recognize the 60th anniversary of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights, arguably America's most successful domestic program ever.

In the decade following World War II, more than 2 million eligible men and women went to college using the GI Bill educational benefits. The result was an American workforce enriched by 450,000 engineers, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and another 1 million college-educated men and women. It is estimated that another 5 million men and women received other schooling or job training on the GI Bill, helping to create the modern middle class.

The original GI Bill exceeded all expectations and had enormous benefits beyond the immediate benefits given to our deserving war veterans. College enrollment grew dramatically in 1947. GI Bill enrollees accounted for almost half of the total college population, resulting in a need for more and larger colleges and universities. In New Jersey, Rutgers University saw its admissions grow from a pre-war high of 7,000 to almost 16,000 during the postwar decades.

Mr. Speaker, economic philosopher Peter Drucker looking at the GI Bill's historical impact noted "The GI Bill of Rights, and the enthusiastic response on the part of America's veterans, signaled the shift to a knowledge society. In this society, knowledge is the primary resource for individuals and the economy overall."

In fact, Mr. Speaker, a Veterans Administration study in 1965 showed that due to the increased earning power of GI Bill college graduates, Federal Government income tax revenues rose by more than $1 billion annually; and in less than 20 years, the $14 billion cost of the original program had been recovered. Further, the home loan portion of the original GI Bill of Rights was so successful that it is credited with creating the suburbs in America. Before the GI Bill, the great majority of Americans were renters. Now, most Americans live in their own homes.

Most importantly, the GI Bill transformed the working men and women of America, giving millions new opportunities they could only dream of before it was enacted.

Mr. Speaker, building upon this success of the original GI Bill, Congress approved a second education bill known as the Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1952 during the Korean War, and then a third bill, the Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 during the Vietnam War, and a fourth bill, the Veterans Educational Assistance Program for the post-Vietnam War era.

Finally, in 1985, Congress approved today's Montgomery GI Bill, or the MGIB, which was designed not only to help veterans transition into the workforce through education and training, but also to support the all-volunteer Armed Forces. All totaled, over 20 million men and women have used the VA educational benefits in the various programs since the first GI Bill in 1944.

Furthermore, the use of educational benefits as a recruitment tool has been one of the most spectacularly successful of all tools given to our Nation's military recruiters.

Mr. Speaker, when I was first elected chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in January of 2001, the GI Bill needed to be updated. As a result of inflation and rising higher education costs, the monthly educational benefit was estimated to cover less than two-thirds of what would be required for a veteran student to attend a 4-year public college as a commuter student. GI Bill utilization rates were down under 50 percent, as far too many veterans concluded they simply could not afford to attend college or job training programs using GI Bill benefits.

With good, solid, bipartisan support in the House and Senate, along with a coalition of education and veterans leaders, I introduced the comprehensive legislation, H.R. 1291, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001, now Public Law 107-103, which dramatically increased Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Signed by President Bush in December of 2001, this legislation boosted the total lifetime Montgomery GI educational benefit from $24,192 in December of 2001 to $35,460 today, an increase of $11,268, which goes directly towards education and job training for qualified veterans. This number is about a 46 percent increase when it was phased in over 3 years.

Already, the number of GI Bill users has risen dramatically by over 24,000 in the first full year of the higher benefit levels, from 289,894 in 2001 to 323,165 in 2002, an 11.5 percent increase after 3 years of declined usage. So in other words, it was going in the opposite direction in terms of utilization. That now has ratcheted upwards.

In addition to benefit increases over the past 4 years, Congress has also made dozens of other improvements to the GI Bill program through 32 separate provisions of law, including accelerated GI Bill payments for short-term, intensive, high-technology courses; two major increases in chapter 35 benefits for veterans' surviving spouses and their dependents; protection against loss of GI benefits resulting from mobilizations and deployments; use of the GI Bill for entrepreneurship courses offered through the Small Business Development Centers; and use of benefits for licensing and credentialing.

And, later this week, I am happy to say, Mr. Speaker, the Subcommittee on Benefits of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, chaired very admirably by the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Brown), is poised to mark up H.R. 1716, the Veterans Earn and Learn Act, which I introduced along with my good friend and colleague, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans), to modernize the VA's on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

Mr. Speaker, the late author Michael J. Bennett in his book, "The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America" wrote: "The GI Bill was the legislation that made the United States the first overwhelmingly middle-class Nation in the world. It was the law that worked, the law whose unexpected consequences were even more than its intended purposes."

I am pleased to join with the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud), the prime sponsor of this resolution, and many others in writing this resolution, and I strongly encourage all of my colleagues to support it. Let us have all of America celebrate a remarkable legacy that continues to give, a legacy given to us by the visionaries who crafted it, and the World War II veterans who converted its opportunities into the American dream.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Brown), the distinguished chairman of our Subcommittee on Benefits.

Mr. BROWN of South Carolina. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New Jersey for yielding me the time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Simmons), the distinguished chairman of our Subcommittee on Health.

Mr. SIMMONS. Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the gentleman from New Jersey, for extending to me time; and I rise in support of House Joint Resolution 91, which supports the recognition of the 60th anniversary of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the GI bill, which transformed our country immediately after World War II and brought the American dream to life.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, if I could finally thank the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud) for his sponsorship of this resolution. It is very timely and extremely appropriate. I thank him for his work on the subcommittee and, of course, thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans), our ranking member, for all of his cooperation. We do things in partnership, and it is greatly appreciated, and I think the veterans benefit from that kind of bipartisanship.

The gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Simmons) made the point, and I think it was very well taken, about the great role the American Legion played in drafting this legislation. At the time, there was talk of maybe giving a $500 bonus to the returning GIs. Then out of the blue, pretty much, Harry Colmery, who was the American Legion National Commander in 1936, a World War I veteran, crafted, as the subcommittee chairman pointed out, on Mayflower stationery this fine concept and practically wrote the GI bill at the Mayflower Hotel. It was quickly grasped by Members of Congress and the President as an extraordinarily good idea, and it really did create the modern-day middle class.

One of the things I do when I wear my international affairs hat, as chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is to strongly encourage the Eastern European countries, the Russians and others, that if you want a stable middle class, this landmark legislation crafted by the American Legion, and certainly pushed through to completion by the Congress at the end of the world war, is the way to go. It is historic and truly landmark legislation that has profound positive implications and consequences.

I think recognizing it the way we are today is very proper and fitting, and again I want to thank the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud) for that.

Mr. Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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