(From The Huffington Post) -- Unemployed veterans may be heading back to school in mass under a federal program to get out-of-work veterans trained and back in the job market.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs say there has been an enormous response to a new skills-based program that pays for up to a year of education toward an associate degree or a non-college-degree or certificate.
In fewer than seven weeks since the VA began accepting applications for the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), 27,080 unemployed veterans have applied. That's more than half the maximum amount the VRAP program will allow in its first year, VA spokesman Randal Noller said this week.
The VA introduced the program on May 15 and received 12,000 applications within the first two weeks of the announcement. But while the response is encouraging, Noller said they will continue to promote the program until every slot is filled.
"We are hopeful that we leverage all 45,000 `slots' for FY (fiscal year) 2012 but are not letting up on our outreach efforts until all 99,000 slots through the end of the program are approved," Noller said in an e-mail.
The program is first-come, first-serve for qualifying veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 who are unemployed at the time of the application. Veterans who are currently receiving unemployment benefits or are enrolled in a federal or state job training program do not qualify.
This clause disqualifies most veterans who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan because they qualify for other forms of relief including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance that can provide similar assistance, Noller said.
Veterans who do qualify can receive up to 12 months of education assistance in high demand areas including health care, management and legal services. The VA will approve up to 45,000 veterans through September 30 of this year and up to 54,000 veterans in the next fiscal year beginning October 1. The program runs through March 2014.