To keep the peace and spur the economy, Congress offered Veterans free college tuition, help in buying homes, and a year's worth of unemployment assistance. It turned out to be one of the best single investments the United States has ever made.
The American Dream has always included title to property. Settlers came to this continent to own their own farms, and Veterans of our early wars were often rewarded with acreage for their service. The 1944 G.I. Bill enhanced the American Dream to include both home ownership and a college education.
Low-interest, no-money-down home loans secured by the Veterans Administration sparked a boom in the construction and manufacturing industries, as Veterans moved to new homes in the suburbs, connected by new roads, and served by new schools, new churches, and new shopping centers.
Free college tuition shattered the notion that higher education was only for the rich, offering new social, economic, and intellectual opportunities to the humblest of Veterans. It also prepared a generation of young, highly motivated, glad-to-be-alive men and women to take the lead in every field of endeavor -- business, science, religion, government, education, and the arts.
Historian Milton Greenberg wrote, "By the time initial GI Bill eligibility for World War II Veterans expired in 1956, the United States was richer by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and more than a million other college-educated individuals."
Educated by the G.I. Bill and motivated in part by the bill's incentive to home ownership, the Veterans of the "Greatest Generation" engineered a Post-World War II economic boom that allowed the United States to become the world's largest economy, leader of the free world, and ultimate victor in the Cold War.
Today, our youngest Veterans offer a similar promise of future leadership, thanks to a Post-9/11 G.I. Bill that was sponsored by Virginia Senator Jim Webb and 58 co-sponsors, including then-Senator Barack Obama. This new G.I. Bill is the most comprehensive educational benefits package offered to Veterans since the original G.I. Bill in 1944. It provides money for tuition and books, fees, a living allowance, and the option to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children. VA pays 100 percent of costs up to the highest rate of in-state tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.
Private institutions have signed up for the special Yellow Ribbon Program for academic year 2009-2010, wherein VA matches up to 50 percent of funding of the difference between tuition and fees covered by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the total cost of the private institution's tuition and fees. Over 1,100 private colleges and universities have joined our public institutions in fulfilling the dream of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Colleges and universities can help underwrite the success of Veterans, many of whom are not taking the usual route to college. They have not spent time in SAT-preparation courses. Instead, they have been serving in high-performing units, practicing teamwork and self-discipline, and learning first hand about peace and freedom. Yet, if schools focus only on a Veteran's standardized test scores or prior academic records, they will miss so much of what these Veterans can offer to their classes and their classmates. Given a chance, they will be among the best students.
They have seen the alternatives to our way of life and appreciate our blessings in ways some may take for granted. They are mature for their years and eager to live productive lives--to make contributions. They are accustomed to working hard and to winning. They form teams easily and know a lot about building trust, having lived and worked with others from diverse backgrounds. They know how to plan, manage time, prioritize tasks, and are disciplined about goals accomplishment.
We face tremendous uncertainties and challenges as a Nation--economic, diplomatic, environmental, and social. We need motivated, energetic and highly educated young people to help us find solutions. We need to find ways, as America has before, to turn uncertainty into opportunity. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is a very good place to start.
In signing the first G.I. Bill, President Roosevelt assured Veterans that "the American people do not intend to let them down." In the decades since, Veterans have proven that they will not let America down. They are well worth our investment.