Expansion of a popular but underused veterans’ skill training program is underway in Congress, but there is no agreement yet on how to improve the program.
The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, was created in 2011 to help unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 by providing one year of flat-rate GI bill benefits to those enrolled in programs providing education or training
There is both authorization and money for 99,000 veterans to take part. As of July 29, the Veterans Affairs Department had received 130,981 applications and approved 114,245 veterans for eligibility, but only 58,376 were enrolled in training.
An agreement between the House and Senate is needed for any changes to occur.
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, currently restricted to vocational schools and two-year community colleges.
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 July 24 by voice vote. VA would have to decide exactly how that applies.
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.
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. Veterans have complained that current rules require them to take some classes that have nothing to do with the skill they are seeking to learn.
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.