Department of Veterans Affairs commemorates GI Bill 70th Anniversary
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the GI Bill, originally the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, at George Washington University here, yesterday.
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 was enacted on June 22, 1944, and provided a wide range of benefits for veterans returning from World War II. These benefits included low-cost home loans, vocational training, and education. Since then, legislation has extended the original document to benefit future generations of veterans.
Wayne Robinson, president of Student Veterans of America, put the impact of the GI Bill into perspective with some of the statistics gathered by his organization.
"The original GI Bill brought us 14 Nobel laureates, two dozen Pulitzer Prize-winners, three Supreme Court justices, and scores of other leaders," he said.
Since August 2009 alone, the latest incarnation of the benefit -- the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which continued benefits for the newest generation of veterans -- has paid out more than $41 billion in benefits to fund the education of 1.2 million beneficiaries.
Jeremy Adkins, a student at Rockhurst University and member of Student Veterans of America, was invited to the event to speak on behalf of student veterans. Adkins, now working toward a Bachelor of Arts in History, and Secondary Education, spent five years on active duty as a health care specialist. He completed a tour in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and also worked as a medic in the United States Disciplinary Barracks.
Adkins' grandfather, Joseph Kuestersteffen, also benefited from the GI Bill. He was a first lieutenant and pilot of a B-24 Liberator in the Army Air Corps during World War II, before using the benefits of the GI Bill to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Physics, from the same university his grandson would later attend.
Kuestersteffen was not able to attend the event due to health concerns, but sent a message with his grandson.
"I was and am very grateful to have received such a wonderful education from the United States government in return for my service to my country," he said.
Adkins echoed his grandfather's sentiments.
"There are not enough words to express the gratitude we share for the Veterans Benefits Administration and the U.S. government that allowed two Kansas boys to receive such a stellar education at Rockhurst University that, without the GI Bill, we never would've attained," he said.
Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sloan Gibson, spoke at the event as well. He explained that the simplicity of the legislature has led to its continued implementation.
"The concept is simple, equitable, and just. Those who shouldered our defense in the longest wars in history should have the same opportunity for a first-class education," Gibson said.
Also in attendance were eleven Roundtable Student Veteran Attendees, representing the much larger population of student veterans. Kyle Carpenter, recent Medal of Honor recipient, will soon join the ranks of student veterans with plans to attend the University of South Carolina.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill also extended the original legislature to dependents of service members. Emily Sheridan, an undergraduate studying at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, has taken advantage of her father's military service in order to finance her undergraduate studies.
"Knowing that our government understands the importance [of a higher education] and aids both military personnel and their family members in obtaining it, is incredibly supportive and important to the military community," she said.
When asked about expectations for the future of the GI Bill, Gibson expressed his lack of concern for any drawbacks in funding.
"I can't imagine Congress stepping back from continued funding of the GI Bill," he said. "I think we can point to this as something having an outsized return on investment."
President Barack Obama released a proclamation on June 20, 2014, to recognize the 70th Anniversary of the legislature, testifying to its impact on the country.
"The GI Bill proved that America prospers when we put a good education within reach of those willing to work for it," he said.