The Humble Origin of the VA Loan Program
On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, a bill you likely know as The GI Bill of Rights, or the GI Bill for short. While the bill was originally drafted by Harry W. Colmery, who had also served as a National Commander of the American Legion and Republican National Chairman, the willingness of FDR to sign the bill into law was one of the pieces that had to fall into place for the bill to get passed. At the time, the bill was highly controversial; particularly the inclusion of unemployment benefits in the form of $20 a week for up to 52 weeks. Both houses of congress had passed their own versions of the bill, and both agreed on the education and home loan benefits, but the unemployment provision nearly killed the bill.
In the end, it came down to Rep. John Gibson of Georgia to come in and cast the tie-breaking vote. Had FDR shot it down instead of signing it, the bill would almost certainly never been able to get the votes for a veto override, ending the bill and taking the VA loan program with it, even though the VA loan portion of the bill was mutually agreed-upon. The GI Bill was updated in 1984, which became known as the Montgomery GI Bill, named after Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery, and was again updated in 2008. The passing and signing of the original GI Bill was the beginning of a legacy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a statement upon signing the GI Bill, and it is as follows:
This bill, which I have signed today, substantially carries out most of the recommendations made by me in a speech on July 28, 1943, and more specifically in messages to the Congress dated October 27, 1943, and November 23, 1943:
It gives servicemen and women the opportunity of resuming their education or technical training after discharge, or of taking a refresher or retrainer course, not only without tuition charge up to $500 per school year, but with the right to receive a monthly living allowance while pursuing their studies.
It makes provision for the guarantee by the Federal Government of not to exceed 50 percent of certain loans made to veterans for the purchase or construction of homes, farms, and business properties.
It provides for reasonable unemployment allowances payable each week up to a maximum period of one year, to those veterans who are unable to find a job.
It establishes improved machinery for effective job counseling for veterans and for finding jobs for returning soldiers and sailors.
It authorizes the construction of all necessary additional hospital facilities.
It strengthens the authority of the Veterans Administration to enable it to discharge its existing and added responsibilities with promptness and efficiency.
With the signing of this bill a well-rounded program of special veterans’ benefits is nearly completed. It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.
By prior legislation, the Federal Government has already provided for the armed forces of this war: adequate dependency allowances; mustering-out pay; generous hospitalization, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation and training; liberal pensions in case of death or disability in military service; substantial war risk life insurance, and guaranty of premiums on commercial policies during service; protection of civil rights and suspension of enforcement of certain civil liabilities during service; emergency maternal care for wives of enlisted men; and reemployment rights for returning veterans.
This bill therefore and the former legislation provide the special benefits which are due to the members of our armed forces — for they “have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems.” While further study and experience may suggest some changes and improvements, the Congress is to be congratulated on the prompt action it has taken.
The sentiments expressed by FDR and the reasons for signing the GI Bill remind of us the potential to do good that every president has. This President’s Day, let’s celebrate the presidents who have done right by our nation’s veterans.