Documents:  The G.I. Bill

"...the members of the armed forces have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and they are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems."

Message to Congress on the Return of Service Personnel
to Civilian Life
November 23 , 1943

To the Congress:

All of us are concentrating now on the one primary objective of winning this war. But even as we devote our energy and resources to that purpose, we cannot neglect to plan for things to come after victory is won.

The problem of reconverting wartime America to a peacetime basis is one for which we are now laying plans to be submitted to the Congress for action. As I said last July:

"The returning soldier and sailor and marine are a part of the problem of demobilizing the rest of the millions of Americans who have been working and living in a war economy since 1941. . . . But the members of the armed forces have been compelled to make greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and they are entitled to definite action to help take care of their special problems."

At that time I outlined what seemed to me to be a minimum of action to which the members of our armed forces are entitled over and above that taken for other citizens.

What our service men and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life. The first task after the war is to provide employment for them and for our demobilized war workers.

There were skeptics who said that our wartime production goals would never be attained. There will also be skeptics who will question our ability to make the necessary plans to meet the problems of unemployment and want after the war. But, I am confident that if industry and labor and Government tackle the problems of economic readjustment after the war with the same unity of purpose and with the same ingenuity, resourcefulness, and boldness that they have employed to such advantage in wartime production, they can solve them.

We must not lower our sights to prewar levels. The goal after the war should be the maximum utilization of our human and material resources. This is the way to rout the forces of insecurity and unemployment at home, as completely as we shall have defeated the forces of tyranny and oppression on the fields of battle.

There are, however, certain measures which merit the immediate attention of the Congress to round out the program already commenced for the special protection of the members of the armed forces.

The Congress has already enacted a generous program of benefits for service men and for the widows and dependents of those killed in action.

For example:

(1) Under the National Service Life Insurance Act, life insurance at low premium rates is now available to members of the armed forces in amounts not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 per person. A total of nearly $90,000,000,000 of insurance has already been applied for.

(2) In addition, provision has been made, under the Soldiers' and Sailors' Relief Act, for the guarantee by the Government of the payment of premiums on commercial policies held by members of the armed forces while in service. Premiums on insurance totaling $135,582,000 have been guaranteed, as a result of 56,276 applications by service men for such relief.

(3) The Congress has also enacted legislation making provision for the hospitalization and medical care of all veterans of the present war, and for the vocational rehabilitation and training of those suffering from disability incurred in, or aggravated by, military service, when such disability results in a vocational handicap preventing reemployment. Similar provision has been made for the rehabilitation of disabled persons in civil life, who, with proper training, can be equipped to play a useful part in the war effort at home. Men who are rejected for military service because of physical or mental defects, or who are discharged from the armed forces because of a disability existing at the time of induction, are thus eligible for such rehabilitation services and training as may be necessary and feasible in order to fit them for useful and gainful employment.

(4) By recent legislation, our present service men and women have been assured the same pension benefits for death or disability incurred in the line of duty while in active military service as are provided for the veterans of prior wars. The pension rates for the family of those killed in this war were recently increased by the Congress.

The Veterans Administration will, from time to time, request the consideration by the Congress of various amendments of existing laws which will facilitate administration, and which will correct any defects in our present statutory scheme which experience may disclose. I am confident that the Congress, in line with the historic policy of this Government toward its ill, injured, and disabled service men and women, will provide generous appropriations to the Veterans Administration with which to carry out these laws.

(5) Numerous other measures have been adopted for the protection of our service men such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act suspending the enforcement of certain obligations against members of the armed forces, the creation of reemployment rights under the Selective Service Act, and the provision for emergency maternity care to the wives and infants of enlisted men.

However, I believe that we must go much further.

We must make provision now to help our returning service men and women bridge the gap from war to peace activity. When the war is over, our men and women in the armed forces will be eager to rejoin their families, get a job, or continue their education, and to pick up the threads of their former lives. They will return at a time when industry will be in the throes of reconversion. Our plans for demobilization of soldiers and sailors must be consistent with our plans for the reconversion of industry and for the creation of employment opportunities for both service men and war workers. Already the armed forces have returned many thousands of service men and women to civil life. The following further steps seem desirable now:

(1) To help service men and women tide over the difficult period of readjustment from military to civilian life, mustering out pay will be needed. It will relieve them of anxiety while they seek private employment or make their personal plans for the future. I therefore recommend to the Congress that it enact legislation and provide funds for the payment of a uniform, reasonable mustering-out pay to all members of the armed forces upon their honorable discharge or transfer to inactive duty. This pay should not be in a lump sum but on a monthly installment basis.

(2) We must anticipate, however, that some members of the armed forces may not be able to obtain employment within a reasonable time after their return to civil life. For them, unemployment allowances should be provided until they can reasonably be absorbed by private industry.

Members of the armed services are not now adequately covered by existing unemployment insurance laws of the States. It is estimated that approximately one-half of them will have no unemployment insurance protection at all when they leave military service. Benefits payable to those who are covered by State law 'are unequal, and will vary greatly among the States because of the wide differences in the provisions of the State laws. The protection in many cases will be inadequate. It is plainly a Federal responsibility to provide for the payment of adequate and equitable allowances to those service men and women who are unable to find employment after their demobilization.

For these reasons, I recommend to the Congress that a uniform system of allowances for unemployed service men and women be established.

I believe that there should be a fixed and uniform rate of benefit for a fixed period of time for all members of the armed forces who, after leaving the service, are unable to find suitable work. In order to qualify for an unemployment allowance each person should 'be obliged to register with the United States Employment Service, and, following the usual practice in unemployment insurance, must be willing to accept available and suitable employment, or to engage in a training course to prepare him for such employment. The protection under this system should be continued for an adequate length of time following the period for which mustering-out payment is made.

At present, persons serving in the merchant marine are not insured under State unemployment insurance laws, primarily because the very nature of their employment carries them beyond the confines of any particular State. I believe that the most effective way of protecting maritime workers against postwar unemployment is to enact without delay a Federal maritime unemployment insurance act. There has been in effect since 1938 a railroad unemployment insurance act, and a similar act for maritime workers is long overdue. Marine workers are, however, insured under the existing Federal old-age and survivors' insurance law.

(3) Members of the armed forces are not receiving credit under the Federal old-age and survivors' insurance law for their period of military service. Credit under the law can be obtained only while a person is engaged in certain specific types of employment. Service in the armed forces is not included in these types. Since the size of the insurance benefits depends upon the total number of years in which credits are obtained, the exclusion of military service will operate to decrease the old-age retirement benefits which will eventually be payable to service men and women. Furthermore, a large number of persons whose dependents were protected by the survivors' insurance benefits at the time they entered the armed forces are losing entirely those insurance rights while they are in service.

I therefore recommend that the Congress enact legislation to make it possible for members of the armed forces to obtain credit under the Federal old-age and survivors' insurance law during their period of military service. The burden of this extension of old-age and survivors' insurance to members of the armed forces should be carried by the Federal Government, and the Federal contributions should be uniform for all members of the armed forces irrespective of their rank.

I have already communicated with the Congress requesting the enactment of legislation to provide educational and training opportunities for the members of the armed forces who desire to pursue their studies after their discharge.

The Congress will agree, I am sure, that, this time, we must have plans and legislation ready for our returning veterans instead of waiting until the last moment. It will give notice to our armed forces that the people back home do not propose to let them down.


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