by Daisy A., 11th
In World War I, veterans who fought bravely in the war came back to America only to discover that they couldn’t find employment nor could they afford to pursue their education. The social and economic aspects of their lives took a toll on them due to a lack of resources in combination with the effects of the Great Depression. World War I veterans received little to no compensation for their service, and “the return of millions of veterans from World War II gave Congress a chance at redemption” (US Department of Veterans Affairs). The G.I. bill otherwise known as the Service Readjustment Act is “a piece of sweeping legislation aimed at helping World War II veterans [ . . . ] prosper after the war” that was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 (Blakemore). This bill was proposed to address the unjust circumstances veterans faced after serving in the military and to “help veterans assimilate into civilian life.” Although its intentions were good, the G.I. Bill was ultimately more harmful than helpful once enacted because it perpetuated racist ideals and was overall ineffective.
The policy was helpful in that it helped millions of veterans assimilate to civilian life. According to the article Born of Controversy: The G.I. Bill of Rights which was published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the G.I. Bill “backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans. The bill helped White Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years.” This shows the G.I. Bill allowed veterans to prosper financially, giving them the financial resources to assimilate to civilian life. The G.I. Bill also allowed veterans to successfully pursue an education as shown through the data collected which indicates, “in the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original G.I. Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program” (US Department of Veterans Affairs). This indicates the program was successful in helping veterans prosper educationally which benefited them since a higher education tends to yield a financially stable life. The G.I. Bill was able to provide millions of veterans with a financially stable life, compensating for the time they spent in the war, unlike the poorer circumstances returning veterans faced in World War I.
The G.I. Bill was harmful in that it provided no resources to Black men, and instead worsened their social and economic standing in society. Black veterans were disproportionately denied access to resources that the G.I. Bill provided White veterans. According to the article How the G.I. Bill's Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans written by Erin Blakemore, “Though the bill helped White Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years, it didn’t deliver on that promise for veterans of color.” The bill “did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, [however,] it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million black veterans”(Blakemore). In order to access the benefits the G.I. Bill gave, honorable discharge was required, and since Black veterans weren’t awarded honorable discharge, they couldn’t access these benefits. “Veterans who did qualify could not find facilities that delivered on the bill’s promise [and] simple intimidation kept others from enjoying G.I. Bill benefits” (Blakemore). The inability of veterans of color to access the G.I. Bill benefits “help[ed] drive growing gaps in wealth, education and civil rights between white and black Americans” (Blakemore). The G.I. Bill, which was supposed to address the injustice that occurred in World War I, created another injustice, one that highlighted the racial inequalities in America and perpetuated those racist ideals; in other words, it legalized racism.
I think the G.I. Bill was ultimately more harmful than helpful because it exacerbated the existing racism in the US and didn’t prove to be as effective as some would like us to think. The G.I. Bill discriminated against Black veterans, so they couldn’t receive the benefits that were advertised. This government issued policy contributed to the racially polarized environment in the US whose effects can still be seen to this day. Although the dominant narrative is that the US has become more racially progressive, matters such as police brutality demonstrate this is not the full story. White police officers kill black males and are not punished. This is an example of how the government systems prioritize White needs over black needs, just as they did in the G.I. Bill. Not only did the G.I. Bill perpetuate racism, it was also ineffective to White veterans. According to the article Homeless Veterans Living with PTSD written by Amy Morin, “the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless [because] many of these veterans with PTSD didn't receive adequate treatment to help them deal with the traumatic events they witnessed in the military.”
The lack of adequate treatment caused veterans to struggle to maintain jobs, rendering the G.I. Bill’s efforts to provide veterans with financial stability useless. While the G.I. Bill may have worked to provide White veterans with financial and educational resources, it failed to address the root problem to why they struggled readjusting to civilian life which was trauma. Veterans experience a lot of trauma and it doesn’t matter how much money or education they receive; if they are struggling to cope with their trauma, the education and money they received from the G.I. Bill will not help them at all. The G.I. Bill proved to be ineffective and rather than helping veterans, it divided them amongst race. It didn’t benefit either group since it didn’t address the root issue both groups had which was trauma; therefore, it was more harmful than helpful. Regardless of its failure, this policy can serve as an example of how drafting federal legislation requires policymakers to consider how the policy will impact everyone, whether everyone will have access to it, and if the policy is addressing the root problem.