By Debbie Gregory.
A Veteran training program created in 2011, intended to assist unemployed veterans who don’t qualify for other veteran education program or VA disability payment, has created unintended roadblocks for Veterans who are trying to complete the program, and has lawmakers scratching their heads to find a solution.
The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, was created in 2011 to help unemployed veterans, aged 35 to 60, by providing a one year of flat-rate GI bill benefits to those enrolled in programs providing Veteran education or Veteran training. Those attending training receive $1,564 a month in Montgomery GI Bill benefits. The program is intended to teach veterans a new, marketable skill, not provide for enrollment in a full-time degree program.
While there is money in the budget for the program and all of its 130,981 applicants, at last count, less than 59,000 veterans were enrolled. The reason for the low enrollment, Veterans say, is the program requires them to enroll in classes that have no connection to the skill or vocation that they are trying to learn. For example, a veteran interested in becoming a welder, using VRAP, is often required to take a full course load, including math, science or history courses, which don’t directly help in finding a welding job. Veterans have said that they have difficulty attending the 18-22 hours per week of this full time load of unnecessary classes.
Veterans also say that they have trouble finding accredited schools to attend. Currently only two-year public colleges are eligible, meaning student veterans cannot use VRAP at private, for-profit schools or one-year programs offered at four-year public schools.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel is seeking to change the program so that Veterans can attend school on a part-time schedule.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee wants to extend the program for two more years, and in the process make it easier for veterans to find training by adding some four-year colleges and universities to the program. A four-year college or university would be covered if the specific training program offered “is not reasonably available” at a community college or technical school, under the Veterans’ Employment Opportunities Enhancement Act, passed by the Senate committee this summer.
Meanwhile, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has approved only a modest extension. The program is now set to expire on March 31, 2014, but legislation passed by the committee in June would extend the program through June 30, 2014, which coincides with the end of the spring 2014 school term.
Also pending before the House committee is a second bill that would relax the requirement for veterans to be full-time students to receive the monthly benefit. That bill, HR 1357, would provide pro-rated payments if a veteran attends school less than full time but spends at least 16 hours a week in classes. Generally, 18 to 22 hours a week is considered full time.
Passage of the bill has been delayed while the House panel and VA work out details about how to best count class time, as some schools award credit hours while others use clock hours.
An agreement between the House and Senate is needed for any changes to occur.