When the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in 2009, it expanded the education benefits available to veterans in most areas. However, veterans hoping to pursue vocational training were left out of the new benefits bill–until this month.
As of Oct. 1, the Post-9/11 GI Bill now covers vocational training, which includes training for culinary, law enforcement, trade or technical support positions–all careers that may be good matches for individuals with a military background.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that young veterans face unemployment at higher rates than the civilian population. The expanded Post-9/11 GI Bill–also known as GI Bill 2.0–offers the opportunity for veterans to pursue certificates or short-term vocational programs where they can quickly receive skills training in demand in their local job market.
In a Department of Veterans Affairs press release, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki called the expansion "a tremendous opportunity to create more good-paying jobs for Veterans in a matter of months."
GI Bill 2.0 positions veterans to fill vocational skills gap
A recent report from Harvard University suggests that there should be strong demand in coming years for individuals with postsecondary licenses or certificates. The report projects job growth in fields such as dental assisting, manufacturing, electrical installation and repair, and law enforcement.
While a college degree has traditionally been viewed as the path to prosperity, in a changing labor market, some vocational certifications can be just as lucrative, if not more so.
"In fact, 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates–credentials short of an associate’s degree–earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient," the report stated.
Prior to Oct. 1, veterans who wanted to use the GI Bill for vocational training were limited to the Montgomery GI Bill, which covers vocational programs but offers fewer benefits than the Post-9/11 GI Bill and requires a $1,200 contribution up front from servicemembers.
Veterans put vocational training to use
While the Post-9/11 GI Bill still covers traditional college education for veterans, not all veterans opt to go that route.
One Army veteran who saw the value in vocational training after service is Justin Trammel, who was stationed in San Antonio and served in Iraq from 2009-2010. After separation, Trammel studied in a program called Troops2Roughnecks that provides training in the oil and gas industry.
Trammel said he chose the program to gain expertise and an entry into a competitive field.
"Trying to get into the oil and gas industry is very difficult," said Trammel. "You can’t simply fill out an application and expect to get hired right away."
Since Trammel pursued his training before the changes went into effect, he paid for his education out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, he said it was worth it.
"I expect to see a better standard of living with my training. I will actually have a career. I won’t have to work from paycheck to paycheck," he said.
Trammel found a position on an oil rig with Union Drilling, Inc. that provides him a good salary to support his growing family–a wife and a baby daughter.
Vocational training helps veterans build on existing skills
Both business and government are working to reduce veteran unemployment through programs such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes, which aims to connect veterans with local employers and provide other employment assistance. President Obama’s jobs bill, the American Jobs Act, proposes additional measures to reduce veteran unemployment, including tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans.
Kevin Denny, CEO and founder of Troop Transition, runs programs such as Troops2Roughnecks that aim to help veterans develop job skills that can quickly translate into the job market.
According to Denny, vocational training is a "highly effective and proven method for a career transition, in this case from military to civilian employment. Vocational training is specific to an outcome, like learning to weld, learning to drive a big rig, learning to install solar systems and so on."
The GI Bill has a long tradition of helping veterans get an education that not only benefits their bottom line but also helps the American economy grow and innovate. As the economy evolves, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is evolving with it to help veterans get training for growing fields.