Over 72,000 veterans are scrambling to find funding for their educational pursuits after Congress failed to extend the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011.
The VRAP, which ended March 31, was a program that offered up to 12 months of training benefits to unemployed veterans age 35 to 60. The VA no longer accepted applications to the program after October 31, 2013, and is continuing to pay educational benefits to those currently enrolled until June 30.
“I think it’s definitely a big mistake,” said 62 year-old Palomar College student veteran Steven Crooks. Crooks noted that he is past the age limit to enroll in the program, but said he finds it unsettling that another veteran benefit is taken off the table.
“(Veterans) are very capable people, they’re very trainable people, and they’re also patriotic people and to squander them is really just shooting yourself in the foot,” Crooks said.
In a White House blog post by Colonel Rich Morales, Executive Director for Joining Forces, and Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Office of Economic Opportunity, the VRAP program was enacted after Congress passed the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011.
According to the post, the “VRAP was specifically designed to cover veterans who are not eligible to receive G.I. Bill educational benefits.”
According to the VA website, veterans must be unemployed at the time of application for VRAP and must attend full-time training courses in order to receive educational benefits that pay out $1600 a month.
“You’re a full-time student, you’re unemployed and then halfway through the semester the benefit ends… they’re kind of between a rock and a hard place,” said Palomar College Veterans Service Technician Ryan Williams about veterans nationwide.
According to Williams, there are approximately 70 veterans in Palomar College that are currently receiving educational benefits from VRAP.
“I know that in previous semesters it’s been over 100 and if you looked at a calendar year it’s probably closer to 200,” Williams said about the amount of Palomar College veterans enrolled into the program in the past.
According to Veterans Services Technician Jessica Horn, the ramification of ending the VRAP program means that there are going to be some veterans who will not be able to utilize the full 12 months of benefits the program used to offer. She added that for those who haven’t prepared the impact is going to be substantial.
“They’re going to have to figure out some way now to pay for college or to make it through to finish whatever they have left in their degree program,” Horn said.
Horn also mentioned that the Veterans Services office has been preparing its VRAP recipients for the impending cancellation of the program and has been encouraging veterans to apply for alternative methods of financing their education.
“Something we strongly encourage all of our veterans to do regardless of whether or not they’re in the VRAP program is to look into financial aid, because if they qualify for the Pell Grant, then that’s additional support for them to go through college,” Horn said.