A federal program designed to help jobless veterans find work is proving very popular with its target audience, according to numbers released this week by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VOW to Hire Heroes Act, signed into law in November 2011, calls for the creation of a program that pays for unemployed veterans to receive training in fields where skilled workers are in high demand, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. The resulting Veteran Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, began accepting applications on May 15.
In the six weeks since VRAP launched, the program has received more than 27,000 applications. The program is limited to 45,000 participants in its first year; if applications continue at the current rate, that ceiling could be reached before August is out. Another 54,000 participants will be accepted into the program in its second year.
Overall, veterans experience unemployment rates similar to those of the general population: 7.8 percent in May as compared to an overall rate of 7.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted. But more recent veterans have significantly higher jobless numbers. Among those who served in the era of the second Gulf War, the unemployment rate in May was 12.7 percent.
So who qualifies for VRAP?
To be eligible, a veteran must be between 35 and 60 years old, ineligible for any other veterans education programs, and not enrolled in any other job training program for 180 days prior to submitting an application. Successful applicants will receive up to $1,473 per month -- the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill–Active Duty program -- for up to 12 months. The money will be paid directly to the participant, who will be responsible for using the funds for tuition, books, or other expenses.
Participants can enroll in associate degree or certificate programs offered by community colleges or technical schools, as long as their studies will prepare them for work in an area identified as high-demand. The list contains 211 jobs, including claims adjusters, tax preparers, architectural drafters, radiation therapists, industrial machinery mechanics, and dental laboratory technicians.
While there has been considerable political debate about the best way for the government to encourage general job growth, the vote that created VRAP was about as bipartisan as it gets. The measure garnered support from 232 Republican Congressmen and 190 Democratic representatives; none voted against the bill.