Unemployed and separating service members now will be able to train in skills that may lead more quickly to private-sector jobs as the Post-9/11 GI Bill starts covering vocational, on-the-job and apprenticeship training and correspondence schools.
Noncollege, nondegree courses are covered under the education benefits program effective Saturday. The change offers the opportunity to learn a new skill without spending two or four years in pursuit of a college degree.
About 13,000 people could find work within a year using the new GI Bill benefits, according to congressional estimates. They would join the more than 200,000 veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend colleges and universities who, for the most part, are not looking for full-time work.
A wide range of classes would be included, such as culinary arts, law enforcement training, architectural drafting and computer troubleshooting.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki called it “a tremendous opportunity to create more good-paying jobs for veterans in a matter of months.”
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who is pushing other employment-related legislation to help veterans more easily find jobs, has high hopes for the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s expanded coverage of noncollege classes.
Miller said the changes are “especially helpful to veterans whose career goals don’t include employment that requires a degree and who prefer a shorter-term program that will qualify them to begin working sooner than the time needed to get a college degree.”
The addition of vocational and nondegree programs to the Post-9/11 GI Bill could be a boon at a time when the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans is 9.8 percent, higher than the 9.1 percent national jobless rate for all Americans.
“This is something we pushed very hard for,” said Robert Norton, deputy director of government relations of the Military Officers Association and a member of the Partnership for Veterans Education.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the only version of the landmark education benefits program since World War II that had not covered vocational education, Norton said.“A lot people coming back from combat assignments need to be competitive in the job market,” Norton said. “With this addition, they have a chance to learn a skill quickly so they can land a job, a good job.”
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a retired Army National Guard command sergeant major and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said many young veterans will choose vocational training over attending a four-year college because it’s a potentially quicker path to a post-service job for those who leave the military without a clear idea of what they really want to do and end up enrolling in college because they have no more definitive plan.
The estimate that the change will help almost 13,000 veterans a year is from the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan analytical arm of Congress.
The estimate includes about 6,800 students who will take part in apprenticeships or on-the-job training, and about 6,000 who will take classes at vocational institutions previously excluded from the Post-9/11 GI Bill because they were not offered by degree-granting institutions.
CBO estimates that about 160 more veterans will pursue flight training each year under revised rules also effective Saturday that pay for tuition and fees up to $10,000 a year.
For vocational programs not affiliated with a degree-granting institution, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will now cover actual costs for in-state tuition and fees up to $17,500 a year, plus a monthly living allowance based on the location of the school and $83 a month for books and supplies.
Common training programs include computer-related skills, long-haul truck driving, medical support such as laboratory testing, beauty and cosmetology schools, law enforcement training academies and real estate classes.
Examples of covered programs include the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood; the Myotherapy Institute of Lincoln, Neb., which offers a 10-month class in massage therapy; and the Colorado Institute of Taxidermy Training in Canon City, Colo., which has three-week classes specializing in different species and mounts.
For on-the-job training and apprenticeships — not available to active-duty service members or their spouses using transferred benefits — veterans receive a modest salary from the employer and a prorated housing allowance from the Veterans Affairs Department.
The housing allowance is based on the duration of the course, plus $83 a month for books and supplies. A full housing allowance based on where the work is located will be paid for the first six months, then drops to 80 percent of the housing allowance for the second six months, to 60 percent for the third six months, to 40 percent for the fourth six months and to 20 percent if the course is longer than 24 months.
Examples include plumbing and steam-fitting apprenticeships in Bellingham, Wash.; repair of BMW vehicles in Dallas and Beaumont, Texas; and precision toolmaking in Tallmadge, Ohio.
Construction and telecommunication companies, police and fire departments and medical labs are other examples of apprenticeship programs approved by VA.
For correspondence courses, VA will pay actual in-state tuition and fees up to $8,500.
VA has a searchable database of nondegree institutions covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill on its website.