George Encourages Veterans to Sign Up for New Benefits Program

HARRISBURG – State Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-74 of Houtzdale, encouraged veterans ages 35-60 to sign up for a new federal benefits program that would help those facing unemployment after their service has ended.

“The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program – VRAP – is part of the federal VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” George said. The program is meant to help provide training for veterans for high-demand jobs, and the program recently began accepting applications for the current fiscal year.”

As many as 45,000 veterans can participate during the current fiscal year, and up to 54,000 may participate during the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2012. Those participating in the program may collect roughly $1,400 a month in benefits during the training period.

To qualify, veterans must:

• Be 35 to 60 years old, unemployed on the day of application, and have been issued discharges under conditions other than dishonorable;

• Be enrolled in education or training after July 1, 2012, in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school leading to an associate degree, non-college degree or a certificate for a high-demand occupation as defined by the Department of Labor;

• Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill, or Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment;

• Not have participated in a federal or state job training program within the last 180 days; and

• Not receive VA compensation at the 100 percent rate due to individual unemployability.

George lauded the program but stressed the need to make training available to veterans younger than 35 and older than 60. George recently offered an amendment to resolve this issue, but it was defeated by most Republicans in the state House of Representatives.

“The House recently debated House Bill 1539, which would create the Keystone Works Program, a state-run program that allows enrollees to collect unemployment benefits while receiving job training,” George said.

“I tried twice to include an amendment that would have provided our veterans who are ineligible for the federal VRAP program with a weekly stipend of $50 – money that could be used for child-care services, dependent-care services, transportation and other expenses that could inhibit a veteran from participating in the program.”

George’s amendment was defeated on two separate occasions by the House Republicans, with the majority of those members voting to not include George’s language in the underlying bill.

“I can think of no other reason than dirty politics that this amendment was not accepted,” George said. “I used similar language that has been introduced by other House Republicans when determining eligibility, yet those members felt that this Democratic-sponsored amendment to help veterans was not worthy of inclusion.”

Veteran unemployment rates are higher than the general population, and Clearfield County has an overall veteran unemployment rate of 15.5 percent.

“I was disgusted that my amendment was defeated, and when I tried to suspend the rules to offer the amendment a second time, I and other Democrats were again shut out – at the expense of our brave soldiers who sacrificed for our country.”

While Rep. George’s amendment was not included in the Keystone Works Program, George intends to offer the amendment as a stand-alone bill, which he will introduce soon.

“In the meantime, I urge all eligible veterans who are unemployed to participate in the federal VRAP program,” George said. “This is a great opportunity for our service members who have been chronically unemployed to receive a new chance at re-joining the workforce.”

To learn more about the VRAP program, visit the federal Department of Veterans Affairs Web site, or call VA National Call Center toll free at (1) 800 827-1000. Veterans may also access the VRAP application online.

“Let’s get our brave men and women who have served us honorably, back to work,” George said. “We owe it to each and every one of them.”

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