From the Soldiers Rehabilitation Act to the Forever G.I. Bill, Accessibility.com celebrates Veterans Day 2021 with a look at Veterans legislation that shaped Veterans' rights in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Smith-Sears Act (1918)
The Soldiers Rehabilitation Act (Smith-Sears Act) was passed by Congress in 1918 to provide federal funding for Disabled Veterans returning to the workforce. The initiative was taken up by the United States legislative branch after the American Red Cross was overwhelmed by soldiers returning from the battlefront of World War I. The Act would become a precedent for future disability rights-related legislation.
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 - G.I. BIll (1944)
After World War I, Veterans across the country banded together to protest the treatment of − and lack of services and benefits to − those who were injured during the war. One of the primary complaints among many veterans was that payment for services for many was not to be rendered until 1945, a full 27 years after the war. Having to cope with injuries, lack of education, employment, and the great recession, protestors arrived in Washington D.C. on May 25, 1932, and demanded early payment, with no plans to leave.
By mid-summer Attorney General William Mitchell ordered the D.C. police to remove the protestors by force which led to riots among the rank and file and ended with the death of two protestors.
Ultimately, the army was asked to re-establish order in the capital. Then-President Hoover directed General Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George Patton to drive the protestors out of the capital, which led to the displacement of approximately 10,000 men, women, and children.
The protests and sight of army tanks pushing Veterans out of the capital were seen by nearly everyone in America in short order and ultimately may have been what cost Hoover his bid for re-election. Just a few short weeks later, on November 9th, at 9:34 p.m., Hoover conceded to Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide election, in which, Hoover garnered only 59 electoral votes of 531 and just 6 of 48 states.
Several years later, after intense and persistent advocacy by the American Legion for Veterans' rights in the following years, the United States Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (or G.I. Bill) in 1944. Although President Roosevelt initially resisted the bill in favor of a more modest social program that protected all lower-income families and individuals, he ultimately signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944.
The original G.I. BIll provided millions with opportunities for education with Veterans making up just under 50 percent of all college admissions in 1947. By 1956, nearly half of all Veterans that participated in World War II had received workforce education or training. The bill also improved homeownership among Veterans and provided funding for unemployment benefits.
Despite many criticisms of the bill, which included shutting out over 1 million Black Veterans (a wrong legislators are still working to make right), the first G.I. BIll would go on to shape social programs and initiatives for future administrations.
In 1984, Representative Sonny Montgomery of Mississippi would move to make the G.I. BIll permanent, and in 2017 President Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act, or "Forever GI Bill" into law.
President Eisenhower issues the first Veterans Day Proclamation (1954)
In 1926 the United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I in a resolution with the text (abbreviated):
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, [...]
[...] the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.
In 1938 the 11th of November was made a legal holiday titled "Armistice Day", intended to celebrate world peace. Armistice Day would ultimately become "Veterans Day" in recognition of all veterans who served in World War I, II, and the Korean War when on October 8th of 1954, President Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation."
Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act and Forever GI Bill
Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act
Due to advances in technology and medical treatment, such as airlifts, medicine, and amputation procedures, military personnel who served in the Vietnam War (1961 - 1975 - U.S.) who may have otherwise not survived injuries in previous wars began to return home with disabilities − something that the U.S. government was not prepared for. This issue was compounded by constraints in existing law, which meant that not all Veterans who served during this period received equal benefits for their service.
By the end of the Vietnam War, nearly 60,000 service members were killed, 75,000 were severely disabled, over 23,000 were 100% disabled, 5,283 lost limbs, 1,081 sustained multiple amputations, and over 300,000 were injured.
Veterans also found themselves coping with a public that was very anti-war and often unfriendly even to those with service-related disabilities, which left many with a feeling of isolation and alienation. Due to the anti-war sentiment, many Veterans found themselves facing discrimination at home, unable to find employment, housing, and other essentials for independent living.
With some Veterans entitled to limited benefits (based on what seemed to some as arbitrary service dates) and many facing discrimination, Congress took action.
20 years after the first Veterans Day proclamation, as soldiers were still returning from the Vietnam War, the United States Congress passed the Vietnam Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act to protect Vietnam Veterans, Disabled Veterans, and any other Veterans that served in a war from discrimination in employment, legislation that is now also largely seen as a catalyst for employment-related discrimination protections for persons with disabilities.
Celebrating Veterans and servicemen and women at home and abroad
As we celebrate today and honor the sacrifice of all our men in women in the armed service, Accessibility.com would like to thank all Veterans for their service to our country, sacrifice, and advocacy for equality and access.
Don't forget to thank a Veteran for their service today!