Applications are being accepted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a new program designed to help unemployed veterans 35 to 60 years old.
According to Steven D. Westerfeld, VA undersecretary for benefits, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, is a joint VA and U.S. Department of Labor program intended to help 99,000 unemployed veterans with 12 months of education assistance equal to full-time Montgomery GI Bill benefits (currently $1,473 per month).
Westerfeld said VRAP is intended to help these veterans qualify for high-demand jobs through VA-approved programs provided by a community college or technical school.
Information provided by the DOL on the VA website says there are currently 3.4 million job openings in the U.S., but many workers do not have the skills or training to qualify.
According to the DOL, nearly 900,000 veterans are unemployed, and veterans 35 to 60 years old — who typically represent the highest financial obligations with the fewest VA education and training options — make up nearly two-thirds of all unemployed veterans.
Michael D’Auino of the Georgia Department of Labor said the state does not track the unemployment rate of veterans separate from others. However, given the number of veterans in the state, a lot of Georgia’s veterans could benefit from VRAP. According to the Georgia DOL, Georgia’s unemployment rate is 9.0 percent, compared to the national unemployment rate of 8.2 percent.
Westerfeld said veterans must meet the following conditions to qualify for VRAP:
• be 35-60 years old, unemployed on the day of application and not dishonorably discharged;
• start education or training after July 1 in a VA-approved program leading to associate’s degree, non-college degree or certificate for a high-demand occupation;
• not be eligible for any other VA education benefit;
• not be enrolled in another federal or state job training program; and
• not be receiving VA compensation at the 100 percent rate due to individual unemployability.
He said veterans can apply by calling 800-827-1000 or going to benefits.va.gov/vow/education.htm. This website also provides a link listing various high-demand occupations.
According to Curtis L. Coy, VA deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity, VRAP is limited to 45,000 veterans between July 1 and Sept. 30 and then an additional 54,000 can participate from Oct. 1 through March 31, 2013. Coy said the DOL will provide veterans with employment assistance on completion of the program.
Before filling out the VRAP application, Westerfeld said veterans will need to know their direct deposit information (bank routing number and account number), the school’s name and location, the program he or she wants to pursue and the applicable high-demand occupation.