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Public Statements

60th Anniversary of GI Bill

Location: Washington DC

Senate - June 22, 2004

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of one of the most important bills to ever be passed by this body, the GI bill. Just like the recent remembrance of D-Day and the unveiling of the World War II memorial, the passage of this landmark legislation is another part of the World War II legacy.

Sixty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed into law the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944." That bill created unprecedented access to education and training for tens of thousands of military members returning home after World War II.

Even before the War ended, Congress and the Administration were preparing for the return of over 15 million men and women serving in the armed services. Without intervention, those 15 million would have no jobs or opportunities when they returned home. To prevent postwar depression caused by mass unemployment, an agency within the Administration, called the National Resource Planning Board, recommended a set of programs to provide education, training and employment for returning soldiers. One of these recommendations became the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, which was supported by the American Legion and other veteran organizations, and was unanimously passed both chambers of Congress. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.

This bill became know as GI bill, and it provided a range of benefits to help veterans reintegrate into the workforce and American society. It provided education and training; loan guaranty for a home, farm, or business; unemployment pay for up to a year; job-search assistance; building materials for veterans hospitals; and military review of dishonorable discharges.

Veterans were entitled to one year of full-time education or training, plus a period equal to their time in service, up to four years. This program had a tremendous impact on college enrollment in this country. In fact, in 1947, which was the peak year of the program, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college enrollment.

Out of a veteran population of 15.4 million, just over half--7.8 million-were trained, including 2.23 million in college, 3.48 million in other schools, 1.4 million in on-job training, and 690,000 in farm training.

Millions of veterans, who would have flooded the labor market, instead opted for education, which reduced joblessness during the demobilization period. When they did enter the labor market, most were better prepared to contribute to the support of their families and society.

The GI bill created an initiative called the Local Veterans Employment Representative Program, or LVER. This program hired wartime veterans to work in employment centers across the U.S. to help other veterans secure counseling and employment. For 60 years, the LVER Program has helped veterans find jobs, training, and education. It has become an integral part of employment services and has been instrumental in helping veterans to resume normal lives after returning.

Today, LVER staff in my home State include some of the best-trained worker placement and retraining experts in the country. For Washington, which has one of the largest concentrations of servicemen and women, veterans, and their families, this is very important. Within my state, Pierce County has a particularly high active military and veteran population, and the LVER program there is a terrific example of what is possible.

The Pierce County LVER program ensures that over 25,000 veterans receive the vital re-employment support they deserve. With staff assistance, they write resumes that reflect the breadth of their experience and skills, draft cover letters, and research employment opportunities. Veterans are also provided with leads on specific jobs and employers who seek the unique skills and talents of experienced veterans.

Staff of the Pierce County LVER also set up three major job fairs each year, which attract over more than 6,000 veterans and employers each year. The LVER office coordinates its activities with over 500 local, State, and national employers, giving veterans access to a unique national support network. The LVER staff includes men and women like Sam Mack, Sal Cantu, Tanya Brewster, and Vicki Bishop, all of whom are decorated veterans who are proud to support their fellow servicemen and women.

Sal Cantu, a resident of Pierce County, epitomizes the dedication and commitment of his colleagues. Sal coordinated a national effort to not only celebrate the GI bill, but specifically to recognize the LVER program and its tremendous impact on service members who seek meaningful employment once they return home. More than 25 State governors wrote letters lauding the efforts of the Pierce County LVER staff to recognize the significant impact of their program.

Most importantly, Sal, a 40 percent-disabled Vietnam era veteran, knows how to build trusting and lasting relationships with veterans. For him, helping veterans chart the next stage of their careers is a labor of love. I am extremely proud of the many men and women like Sal who, after serving honorably in the military, have made it their second career to support and help locate jobs for their fellow veterans.

Yet before the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the United States did not provide employment or vocational services for veterans upon their completion of military service. Since the first GI bill, there have been five subsequent programs enacted to provide benefits to veterans of other military conflicts-from the Korean conflict to the war in Iraq. The most recent bill, the Montgomery GI bill enacted in 1985, is the largest contemporary program providing education benefits to military personnel. All enlisted soldiers and veterans are eligible for between $7,500 and $35,000 in educational aid. This program has attracted men and women into the armed forces by helping to pay for college. Today, over 90 percent of those who enter the military enroll in the Montgomery GI bill program.

As we reflect on the history and success of the GI bill, we should consider how this program can translate to all Americans. The spirit of the GI bill that in exchange for contributing to society, this country should help individuals invest in themselves also holds true for those who have not served in the military. As the cost of education rises, many low- and middle-income students-whether they have served in the military or not need help covering educational expenses. We need to make the same kind of investment in the human capital, not just of our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but for all Americans. We need a GI bill for all Americans.

In the ever-changing global economy, the success of our companies depends on adaptability and innovation. As a result, we must change the way we educate and prepare workers to compete in the global economy. When national leaders were confronted with fundamental changes in the size and nature of the country's workforce following World War II, they stepped up to address the challenge with the GI bill. The economic sea changes we face today demand a similar response.

To maintain our economic competitiveness, we must keep up with the demand for skilled workers across all sectors of the economy. The changing economy has increased the demand for a college degree. In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 6 of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. economy require an associate's degree or bachelor's degree, and that all ten of these careers will require some type of skills training. By 2010, 40 percent of all job growth will require some form of post-secondary education.

To keep pace in the new, knowledge- and information-based economy, it's imperative that we equip our workforce with the skills to succeed in high-wage jobs. If we fail, those who lack skills will fall further and further behind, imperiling not just their individual futures, but America's ability to compete in the global economy.

It is the responsibility of this body to return to the level of investment in higher education that this country made 60 years ago. We do need a new GI bill for all Americans, and I, for one, intend to fight to make the idea of universal post-secondary education come to fruition.

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