New program provides extra year of training for those aged 35 to 60
By Rick Maze
A new veterans education benefit could help 99,000 unemployed veterans learn new skills in career fields forecast to have high job growth over the next decade, a senior Veterans Affairs Department official said.
Curtis Coy, a retired Navy commander who serves as VA deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity, said the $1.6 billion Veterans Retraining Assistance Program is aimed at about 400,000 unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 who are not eligible for traditional VA education and training benefits, either because they used their GI Bill benefits or their benefits expired.
What they are being offered is one year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits to be used for college, vocational or on-the-job training, or apprenticeships in one of 210 high-demand fields.
In a meeting with Military Times editors and reporters, Coy said the program could have a significant impact on veteransâ€™ unemployment if VA can just get word out about the program.
There is no mailing list and no database to identify veterans who might be eligible, Coy said.
â€œIf we identify those 400,000 vetÂerans, and we line them all up, we have to convince one in four of them, since we have 99,000 slots, to embark upon additional schooling or technical training for that high-demand job,â€ Coy said. â€œSo you can certainly see the challenge.â€
More than 14,000 veterans have applied for the 45,000 openings this year, Coy said. Another 54,000 openings will be available beginning Oct. 1.
Not everyone who applies is eligible, Coy noted -- but there is good news behind some of the denials. Of the 2,600 claims processed as of June 5, about 280 were ineligible, but about 80 perÂcent of those had remaining education benefits available and didnâ€™t know it, Coy said.
The rest of the denials resulted from a mix of having no verifiable military service and dishonorable discharges, VA officials said.
Those eligible for the program receive one year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits, which pay up to $1,473 a month for those with three or more years of service.
Benefits will cover training in fields that the Labor Department and VA have identified as high-demand -- those with more than 10,000 job openings forecast in the next 10 years -- that veterans could qualify for after one year of training.
â€œWe took off the top -- doctors, lawyers, neurosurgeons, CPAs and some of the higher-end occupations that would require a lot more than perhaps a refresher of one year,â€ Coy said.
Also excluded were jobs that require no training, or training of considerably less than a year.
â€œClassic examples might be retail clerks, maids and people that you sort of â€¦ walk around with and show them how to do it,â€ Coy said.
The unemployment rate for veterans aged 35 to 60 is 7.8 percent, slightly lower than the national average of 8.2 percent and far lower than the 23.5 percent unemployment rate for veterans aged 24 and under.
Of the 800,000 unemployed veterans overall, somewhere between half and two-thirds -- depending on who is counting -- could be eligible for VRAP.
The House Veteransâ€™ Affairs Committee, from which VRAP originated, uses the high number, saying two-thirds of unemployed veterans are between ages 35 and 64, per the Labor Departmentâ€™s cutoff for age groups. Coy used the lower estimate, saying about 400,000, or half, of unemployed veterans are in the age category covered by the program.
Regardless of the actual number, a program that helps 100,000 find permanent jobs would put a big dent in the veteran jobless rolls.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veteransâ€™ Affairs Committee and chief advocate for VRAP, said he wanted to help this group of veterans because many of them are struggling under oppressive debt, poor credit and rising unemployment -- without any veterans benefits to fall back on.
The goal, Miller said last year when he introduced the plan, is to ensure veterans â€œhave the hard skills that will be in demand as the economy recovers.â€
June 18, 2012