By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO Contributing Editor,
The G.I. Restoration Act of 2023, introduced in Congress this year by Assistant Democratic Leader Jim D. Clyburn (D-SC-6) and Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), aims to change life in America for Black descendants of World War II veterans who were denied the benefits of the original G.I. Bill signed into law in 1944.
The original G.I Bill of Rights lifted more than 4.3 million veterans and their families into the middle class by making them home owners in the first decade of its passage. More than 16 million World War II veterans took advantage of college or postsecondary training, according to the Department of Defense.
Yet, a provision in the original G.I bill allowed benefits to be administered by states, thus denying the educational and housing benefits to millions of Black veterans and their families, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). This denial continues to impact income inequality, according to the report.
Now, 75 years after the G.I. Bill’s original passage, the G.I.Restoration Act’s sponsors say it is time to make the correction.
“I’ve long said that the quickest ways to overcome poverty and build generational wealth in this country are through education and homeownership,” Clyburn expressed to the AFRO.
“It is unconscionable that Black Veterans — returning home from World War II and their descendants — were denied the benefits of the original G.I. Bill that their White counterparts received,” Clyburn explained.
The GI Restoration Act of 2023 – formally titled the Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act of 2023 will:
- Extend access to the VA Loan Guaranty Program to surviving spouses and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans
- Extend access to the Post-911 G.I. Bill educational assistance benefits to surviving spouses and certain direct descendants of Black World War II veterans
- Establish a panel of experts to make recommendations on addressing inequitable access to benefits for female and minority members of the Armed Forces
“Black WWII veterans were robbed of what should have been life-changing opportunities afforded by the G.I. Bill. Not enough Americans realize this – or that surviving veterans and millions of their descendants continue to feel the repercussions today,” said Moulton.
Although the lawmakers realize the chances of passing the G.I Restoration Act might be slim this year, given the current divided House of Representatives, this effort is for the long run.
“We introduced this bill not because we knew it would be politically or logistically easy to get passed, but because this is a national conversation that is painfully overdue. We’re under no illusions that moving this bill forward will happen overnight — or during this Congress for that matter,” Moulton added.
Support for the G.I. Restoration Act has made its way past Capitol Hill to the states this summer with 24 state Attorneys Generals signing a letter of support for passage of the bill.
“The Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox G.I. Bill Restoration Act of 2023 is a meaningful step toward repairing an historic injustice and honoring the service and sacrifices of our Black World War II veterans and their families,” the letter stated.
Legislative actions on behalf of the Military usually attract bi-partisan support. Clyburn, Moulton and supporters of the G.I Restoration Act are hoping their Republican allies will join the bill’s 41 Democratic Co-sponsors to support it this Veterans Day.
“Ahead of this Veterans Day, I’m calling on Speaker Johnson to do the right thing and bring this legislation to the floor for an up-or-down vote. While we can never undo the injustices that befell our American heroes, we can certainly make amends for their unfair treatment,” Clyburn said.
“We are working hard to educate our colleagues in Congress about the bill and to pursue realistic avenues to move it forward. In the meantime, I hope it raises awareness on the generations of setbacks these veterans suffered at the hands of the country they fought to protect,” added Moulton.
The G.I Restoration Act is named in honor of Black World War II veterans, Sergeants Isaac Woodard and Joseph Maddox. Sgt. Woodard, was beaten and blinded while in uniform in 1946 when South Carolina Police drug him from a bus. Sgt. Maddox was accepted to Harvard University but denied the right to use his G.I. bill to “avoid setting a precedent” according to Clyburn’s office.