VA Program to Help Veterans Retrain for New Careers

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is sponsoring a program that is aimed at getting unemployed veterans of the U.S. Armed Services back to work. The program will cover up to a year of tuition for any veteran working towards an associate degree or enrolling in a job-training program. Since announcing the program on May 15th of this year, more than 27,080 applications have been received. That means that in only 7 weeks, the program enrollment could have already exceeded the half-way mark for the whole year.

When it was announced, VA spokesman Randal Noller said that the department hoped to accept 45,000 veterans into the program over the course of 2012 and 99,000 veterans overall.

The program is first-come, first-serve for qualifying veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 who are unemployed at the time of the application. Veterans who are currently receiving unemployment benefits or are enrolled in a federal or state job training program do not qualify.

This clause disqualifies most veterans who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan because they qualify for other forms of relief including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance that can provide similar assistance, Noller said.

The program will continue to accept applicants until March 2014, and will provide up to 12 months of assistance to those seeking training in in-demand fields like legal services, health care and technology. Those looking to take advantage of it this year need to apply before September 30th. There are 54,000 additional slots available for those looking to enroll for the next fiscal year, and applications received on October 1st and later will count towards that number.

Chester Dixon, who, at 60, just barely met the age cutoff said he applied because since losing his full-time job in 2007, he hasn’t been able to obtain other steady employment. Dixon has been relying mostly on his wife’s salary to cover most of the expenses, but they’ve hit financial difficulty when she retired earlier this year after 42 years of teaching. Dixon said that it would ease their burden substantially if he could qualify for another job, and the program offered a great opportunity to do that.

Dixon applied for VRAP at the North Metro Career Center in Atlanta, one of 68 centers in Georgia that can help veterans apply for the program.

Steve Jennings, state veterans program coordinator for the Georgia Department of Labor, said they act as facilitators at organizations like the one Dixon visited.

“We’ll sit with a veteran customer and help them navigate the process. In the very end, once they complete their schooling we come in on the back end of it and provide job services and of course help them find employment,” Jennings said.

If approved for VRAP, Dixon said he plans to study “water waste” or “sales,” two categories listed as high-demand fields.

07 16, 2012
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