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For those leaving the service who want to go to work instead of school, the GI Bill can help pay the bills for a training position as an apprentice or on-the-job learner, through a union or training for certification. The details from the Department of Veterans Affairs:

1. It’s not just for education. For apprentices, the Post-9/11 GI Bill stipend will supplement your entry-level wage with the equivalent of the Basic Allowance for Housing of an E-5 with dependents. Just as the benefit is used to offset tuition costs, these funds will help on-the-job trainees and apprentices to supplement the wages from your employer, which must be at least 50 percent of journeyman wage. You won’t get rich, but the benefit will help get you to a livable situation.

2. Payment rates. Monthly Housing Allowance dollars diminish as your training progresses. The Post-9/11 GI Bill payment rates are as follows:

  • 100 percent of your applicable MHA during the first six months
  • 80 percent of your applicable MHA during the second six months of training
  • 60 percent during the third six months of training
  • 40 percent during the fourth six months of training
  • 20 percent during the remainder of the training

All other GI Bill programs:

  • 75 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the first six months of training
  • 55 percent for the second six months of training
  • 35 percent for the remainder of the training program

3. The reward. But the dollars also rise over time, with wages increasing even as your GI Bill benefit is winding down. As you advance in your learning, you’ll earn your way into higher-paid skill sets, so that by the end of your apprenticeship, you should be getting paid at least 85 percent of the wage for a fully trained employee. That’s a VA requirement for employers. The VA expects a “reasonable certainty” the job you’ve trained for will be available after your training.

4. Finding a program. To use the on-the-job stipend, you’ll need to find an employer with an approved apprenticeship or on-the-job training program. VA keeps a list of qualified employers. Employers can be private companies or government agencies. They must issue a job certification or journeyman status at the end of training. The State Approving Agencies approve programs in their states. On-the-job training can be found in a range of industries and professions: firefighting, plumbing, hotel management, to name a few.

5. Prepare for heavy lifting. While apprenticeship requirements vary, most unions expect a trainee to put in 2,000 hours for every calendar year of their apprenticeship, along with 100 to 200 hours of classroom training each year, according to the AFL-CIO. In addition, there are written and practical hands-on exams.

6. Plan to make the money last. The average starting wage for an apprentice is approximately $15 per hour, according to the Department of Labor, and the GI Bill pays only once a month, after VA receives certification of hours worked from your employer or union, so you’ll have to budget thoughtfully. The up side: The average wage for a fully proficient worker who completed an apprenticeship is roughly $50,000 a year.

7. “Certain restrictions apply.” As the saying goes. To claim the stipend, you’ll need to work full time in an entry-level job. You must be new to the job and new to the field, a true beginner, and the position must require at least six months of training. Your work must be supervised at least half the time, and your employer has to document what you do. Once all these pieces are in place, you’re ready to start working toward a new career, with help from your military benefits.

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