Thousands of veterans sign up for job education

Jul 4, 2012, 3:08 PM

Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) – Unemployed veterans may be heading back to school in mass under a federal program to get out-of-work veterans trained and back in the job market.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say there has been an enormous response to a new skills-based program that pays for up to a year of education toward an associate degree or a non-college-degree or certificate.

In fewer than seven weeks since the VA began accepting applications for the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), 27,080 unemployed veterans have applied. That’s more than half the maximum amount the VRAP program will allow in its first year, VA spokesman Randal Noller said this week.

The VA introduced the program on May 15 and received 12,000 applications within the first two weeks of the announcement. But while the response is encouraging, Noller said they will continue to promote the program until every slot is filled.

“We are hopeful that we leverage all 45,000 `slots’ for FY (fiscal year) 2012 but are not letting up on our outreach efforts until all 99,000 slots through the end of the program are approved,” Noller said in an e-mail.

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.

Veterans who do qualify can receive up to 12 months of education assistance in high demand areas including health care, management and legal services. The VA will approve up to 45,000 veterans through September 30 of this year and up to 54,000 veterans in the next fiscal year beginning October 1. The program runs through March 2014.

“It’s a very new and very fast-moving program that we’re getting out there to help veterans as quickly as possible,” Noller said.

So far, 13,083 applications have been approved and thousands more pour in every week. The VA approves batches of applications every 15 to 25 days. While it’s likely that the program will reach its max by summer, Noller said it’s too early to determine an exact date and veterans should continue to apply.

One recent applicant was Chester Dixon, who served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in the 1970s.

Dixon, 60, barely made the cutoff age. The veteran, just a month shy of his 61st birthday, said age isn’t a factor when it comes to returning to school, especially when it could result in full-time work _something he hasn’t had in five years.

Dixon lost his job in 2007 and said things have been tough. Despite spotty part-time work in warehousing, finances have been strained and his wife has had to carry the burden of supporting them. A few weeks ago, she retired after 42 years in teaching.

A full-time job would make all the difference, he said.

“It will take some pressure off my wife,” Dixon added. “Right now I’m doing the minimum and I would like to do more.”

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.

The program is funded through the VA. The amount is equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty program, $1423 a month. In two years, The VA will spend a little above $76 million to fund the program. The total is about $17,000 for every veteran, of the 99,000 set to be in the program. The amount will skew lower if some veterans opt for programs for that take less than a year to complete, Noller said.

Dixon said he knows he’s not alone. At job fairs across the country he said he’s seen unemployed veterans from all eras.

It’s a challenge but he encourages himself to stay optimistic.

“I stay positive because I need to be.” Dixon said about employment. “You have to continue to search and not give up.”

The unemployment rate for veterans 18 and older was an average of 7.7 percent as of May 2012, one tenth of a percent below the national rate for non-veterans at 7.8 percent according to the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Groundhog handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, who saw his shadow, predicting a late sprin...
Associated Press

Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow on Groundhog Day, predicting longer winter

Punxsutawney Phil’s “inner circle” summoned him from his tree stump at dawn on Groundhog Day to learn if he has seen his shadow.
8 hours ago
A hiring sign is displayed outside of a restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill., Monday, Jan. 30, 202...
Associated Press

Job market still hot, December openings rise to 11 million

U.S. job openings rose to 11 million in December, delivering a setback to the Federal Reserve's effort to cool a hot job market.
1 day ago
(AP Photo/John Locher)...
Associated Press

Is pumping Mississippi River water to the west a solution or dream?

Amid a major drought in the Western U.S., a proposed solution comes up repeatedly: large-scale river diversions.
1 day ago
US Vice President Kamala Harris (R) greets friends and family of Tyre Nichols during his funeral se...
Associated Press

Emotional calls for police reform at Tyre Nichols’ funeral

Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an impassioned speech calling on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
1 day ago
Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at...
Associated Press

Fed lifts rate by quarter-point but says inflation is easing

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve extended its fight against high inflation Wednesday by raising its key interest rate a quarter-point, its eighth hike since March. And the Fed signaled that even though inflation is easing, it remains high enough to require further rate hikes. At the same time, Chair Jerome Powell said at a […]
1 day ago
The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states. (Photo by Jus...
Kevin Stone

Arizona leaders call out California on Colorado River water negotiations

Arizona politicians are calling for more cooperation from California in negotiations over Colorado River water supply distribution.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Thousands of veterans sign up for job education