Just in time for Veterans Day, Democratic lawmakers revived the effort to help repay families of Black World War II veterans who were not allowed to reap the benefits of the GI Bill when they returned home.
The legislation, GI Bill Restoration Act, is to be introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock after it was proposed in the House last week by its sponsors, Democratic majority whip Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton.
According to the Guardian, from 1944 to 1956, the original GI Bill offered benefits to millions of veterans to ease their return to civilian life. However, racism inevitably stood in the way of many Black WWII veterans having equal access to home loans and resources for continuing education or starting a business.
From the Guardian:
President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law in 1944, making generous financial subsidies available to 16 million second world war veterans pursuing higher education and buying their first homes. Irrespective of race, veterans who served more than 90 days during the war and had been honorably discharged were entitled to the benefits.
But after returning from the war, Black and white veterans faced two very different realities.
Because the GI bill benefits had to be approved by local VA officers, few of whom were Black, the process created problems for veterans. This was particularly acute in the deep south, where Jim Crow segregation imposed racist barriers to homeownership and education.
Local VA officers there either made it difficult for Black veterans to access their benefits or lessened their value by steering them away from predominantly white four-year colleges and toward vocational and other non-degree programs.
So while homeownership skyrocketed for white veterans and their families in that post-war period, in a place like Mississippi only two of more than 3,000 Veterans Affairs home loans went to Black American veterans.
The Guardian reports that the cash equivalent of what Black veterans received was only 40% of what their fellow white servicemen got, undoubtedly contributing to the generational wealth gap for Black families.
Now, this new bill seeks to make things right.
Here’s more about the bill from NBC News:
The bill would extend access to Post-9/11 GI Bill educational assistance benefits to the surviving spouse and direct descendants of these veterans who were alive when the bill took effect. It would also extend access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program, which helps provide home loans to veterans and surviving spouses.
In a statement, Clyburn said that many Black World War II veterans were “treated unjustly” after they returned home and were denied a “path to the middle class.”
“It is important to acknowledge this injustice and help address the wealth gap that was exacerbated by the government’s failure to fulfill this promise to World War II veterans of color,” he said.
Warnock said in a statement, “Black service members fought valiantly in Europe and the Pacific for freedom from tyranny, with hope that their patriotism would be greeted with equality and opportunity once they returned home.”
The GI Bill Restoration Act will also require the Government Accountability Office to create a panel of experts dedicated to assessing the inequities that minority and female veterans face when it comes to receiving their benefits.
“We can never fully repay those American heroes,” said Rep. Moulton, according to NBC. “But we can fix this going forward for their families.”