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Lawmaker wants more time for vets on VRAP

Feb. 6, 2013 - 07:59PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 6, 2013 - 07:59PM  |  
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The architect of the popular Veterans Retraining Assistance Program is proposing a three-month extension to prevent education benefits from being cutoff before a veteran has completed classes.

This would not provide any additional benefits, just prevent GI Bill payments from stopping before the end of the school term.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, is the person who first proposed the program aimed at helping unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 learn a new and marketable skill.

Miller said Wednesday that he wants to extend the program through June 30, 2014 — three months longer than the current cutoff day — so benefits are not cut off before the traditional end of the spring term at many schools.

The Miller-proposed extension would have to pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by the president before taking effect. His introduction of the bill is just the first step in the legislative process that would take the entire year.

VRAP, as the program is called, was created with a limit of less than 100,000 spaces for veterans, who receive 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits while attending approved courses to learn a new skill. About 80,000 of the slots have been claimed but not all of the veterans have enrolled in or have started classes.

Miller's Senate counterpart, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, is sponsoring legislation to extend VRAP for two more years, opening the door to about 50,000 students each year. Miller, though, is not yet ready to make that leap.

In a statement announcing he had introduced a bill to make the three-month extension, Miller said he needs to know more before adding more years and more students.

"Before extending VRAP beyond 2014 or to additional participants, we need to have an honest conversation about its effectiveness," he said. That includes watching to see how many VRAP graduated find jobs.

Miller said he still believes in the program.

"VRAP is a tremendous opportunity for unemployed veterans to receive valuable training for in-demand jobs, and I encourage all eligible veterans to apply," he said.

VRAP is open to unemployed veterans, at least 35 yeas old but not older than 60, who are not eligible for any other veterans' educational benefits, are not enrolled in any state or federal job training program and who are not receiving veterans' disability compensation due to unemployability. Additionally, their discharge from the military may not be under dishonorable conditions.

Their GI Bill benefits, paid monthly, may be used if they enroll in a qualified course at a community college or technical school to learn what the U.S. Labor Department has determined is a high demand skill.

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