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Opinion: Don't let VRAP grind to a halt

Mar. 31, 2014 - 03:29PM   |  
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On Monday, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, a benefit that provides unemployed veterans ages 35 to 60 with 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill education benefits, is set to expire ó possibly leaving a number of veterans seeking careers in high-demand fields with insufficient funds to graduate.

The problem is that VRAP benefits last only 12 months, when many education programs, including associate degrees, may take 15 to 18 months or longer to complete.

The Veterans Affairs Department stopped taking new applications for VRAP as of Oct. 1, and its authority to make payments under the program expires today, March 31.

VA recently announced it would pay VRAP veterans whose enrollments extend past the funding expiration date by providing a lump sum payment to complete the training period. Thatís a laudable move, but more must be done.

The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have stepped up to get this benefit extended. Last week, several VSOs held a press conference at the Capitol calling for the passage of HR 4149, the Help Hire Our Heroes Act, which would extend VRAP funding for six months, through Sept. 30.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., has 10 co-sponsors, including four Republicans.

Congress should rally behind this simple legislation that combats veteransí unemployment and homelessness. Itís sensible legislation, given VRAPís effect on the academic success of veterans and its importance in bridging the skills gap and getting unemployed veterans on track toward meaningful careers.

VRAP is good for veterans. Itís good for the country.

Michael Dakduk is a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the former executive director of Student Veterans of America and current vice president of military and veterans affairs for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.

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