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Failing Our Veterans

Failing Our Veterans: The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation

Mark Boulton
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Failing Our Veterans
    Book Description:

    The original 1944 G.I. Bill holds a special place in the American imagination. In popular mythology, it stands as the capstone of the Greatest Generation narrative of World War II, a fitting reward for the nations heroes. Given the almost universal acclaim afforded the bill, future generations of warriors might well have expected to receive similar remuneration for their sacrifice. But when soldiers of the Vietnam conflict shed their fatigues and returned home to civilian life, they found that their G.I. Bills fell well short of what many of them believed they had earned.In this first legislative history of the G.I. Bill during the Vietnam Era, Mark Boulton takes the story of veterans politics beyond the 1944 G.I. Bill as he seeks to uncover the reasons why Vietnam veterans were less well compensated than their predecessors. In crafting their legislation, both conservative and liberal politicians of the Vietnam era wrestled with fundamental questions about the obligations of American citizenship. What does it mean to serve ones country? What does society owe those civilians it puts in uniform? Repeatedly, in answering those questions, lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum found reasons to curb the generosity of the benefits offered.The G.I. Bills should play a central role in our understanding of the Vietnam veterans post-service lives, just as they do for World War II veterans. Taking the story of the G.I. Bills beyond the World War II generation allows for a more complete understanding of the veteran experience in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6042-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “A Chance for Learning”
    (pp. 1-18)

    “This is a historic day,” proclaimed Lieutenant Colonel Bui Tin. “This is the first time in more than 100 years that there are no foreign soldiers in our country. Tonight we celebrate.” Tin, acting as a representative of the Communist forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, watched as the last American combat soldiers to leave his country boarded a C-130 transport plane at Tan Son Nhut airbase. For Tin, March 29, 1973, marked a culminating point in a lifelong struggle against foreign influence in Vietnam. Having joined the communist-nationalist movement in 1945, his nearly thirty years of fighting had...

  5. 1 For the Wounded and the Worthy: Veterans’ Benefits from the Early Republic to the Vietnam Era
    (pp. 19-52)

    The fractious political debates that would cause the problems associated with the Vietnam-era G.I. Bills had long antecedents in American history. Since the very founding of the nation, several areas of contention have dictated the scope and generosity of benefits offered to veterans. The first was simply the economic expediency of offering benefits. Depending on the scale and length of the military engagement, veterans’ pending, even at times of greatest veteran need. The second point of contention was the potentially degenerative effects on citizenship of offering rewards for military service. From the Revolutionary War down through the era of the...

  6. 2 The Clash of the Texans: The Making of the 1966 Cold War G.I. Bill
    (pp. 53-94)

    The debates surrounding veterans’ benefits at the end of the 1950s should have had a limited impact on the passage of a G.I. Bill for Vietnam veterans. Even the Bradley Commission accepted the need for readjustment benefits for veterans who had served in a hostile environment Vietnam veteran’s access to benefits became complicated by attempts in Congress at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s to pass a sweeping Cold War G.I. Bill, one that would offer benefits toallservicemen and women irrespective of when and where they served. Such a broad-ranging bill challenged the findings of the...

  7. 3 A Peacetime Bill for the Warrior: Shortchanging the Vietnam Vets
    (pp. 95-118)

    Both during and immediately after the passage of the 1966 G.I. Bill, questions arose about whether the bill had gone far enough in providing adequate readjustment benefits for the new generation of veterans returning to civilian life. The government did, at least, recognize the education benefits. In September 1966, Johnson created a special task force by executive order to examine veterans’ benefits. William Driver chaired the task force, which also included representatives from the DOD, the BOB, and the Department of Health and Welfare. Their report, submitted on November 19, included a proposal to increase the monthly allowance to $130...

  8. 4 Mr. President (Have Pity on the Fighting Man): Nixon’s Right Turn for America, Wrong Result for the Veterans
    (pp. 119-154)

    Like so many of his predecessors, Richard Nixon offered glowing public expressions of support for the nation’s veterans while working behind the scenes to limit the assistance for which so many of them clamored. However, many legislators, particularly in the Senate, continued the fight to make the Cold War G.I. Bill a more effective readjustment program for Vietnam veterans than it had been during its early years. The improvements to veterans’ benefits that did occur at the start of the 1970s resulted from intense negotiation among the House, Senate, and White House. All agreed that the problems of the G.I....

  9. 5 On the Streets and in the Schools: The Veterans Come Home
    (pp. 155-176)

    While the calls for an improved G.I. Bill echoed in the halls of Congress and in the press, the group of citizens for whom the calls rang remained relatively quiet. There seemed to be either a reluctance or inability among Vietnam veterans to organize into a coherent force capable of bringing meaningful pressure to bear on those legislators still putting up roadblocks to their readjustment. In contrast to the American Legion and VFW’s actions on behalf of returning World War I and World War II veterans, few large-scale national organizations existed promote the specific needs of returning Vietnam veterans. In...

  10. 6 Denouement: Ford’s War on Inflation and Yeague’s Last Stand
    (pp. 177-206)

    Just ten days after being sworn in as president, Gerald Ford spoke at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Chicago. His speech contained the usual politically expedient platitudes toward veterans as he pledged, “As a veteran, I want good relations with all veterans. We all proudly wore the same Nation’s uniform and patriotically saluted the same flag. During my administration, the door of my office will be open to veterans just as it was in all of my 25 years as a member of congress.” Ford served as naval gunnery officer and assistant navigator on board...

  11. Conclusion: “A Chance for Learning” Missed
    (pp. 207-216)

    In the summer of 1968, Stephen Piotrowski’s life was at a crossroads. With high school graduation looming, a succession of rejected grant and scholarship applications had dashed his immediate hopes of going to college. His brother was close to returning home from a tour of duty as an air force mechanic in Vietnam and, with the risk of his draft number being called, Piotrowski decided to enlist in the army. He was well aware of the controversial nature of the war and of the risks involved in volunteering, but several factors dictated his decision. Failure to secure funding for college...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 217-250)
    (pp. 251-262)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 263-272)
    (pp. 273-273)