Thousands of veterans who lost their jobs because of COVID-related challenges can now apply to be part of a new rapid retraining program designed to prepare them for new careers in high-demand specialties.

The benefit, which is open to about 17,000 veterans, is targeted at those who have already exhausted other job-training opportunities but still find themselves without stable employment because of coronavirus closures, layoffs or health complications.

The program was included in the last coronavirus relief package approved by Congress. The measure was signed into law on March 11, but applications to the new Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program were delayed until May 3, as Veterans Affairs officials worked to stand up the program.

VA leaders said they coordinated with the Department of Labor on the work, which included identifying high-demand occupations across the country and establishing new guidelines for schools who wish to participate.

VRRAP officials have identified more than 200 high-demand occupations for veterans to consider, including architecture and engineering positions, personal care and service jobs, and construction careers.

Under the program, veterans who qualify can receive education benefits equal to the Post-9/11 GI Bill (including tuition costs and housing stipends) for up to 12 months, with the goal of learning a new skill or completing a certificate program in that time frame.

To qualify, veterans must be between the ages of 22 and 66, have an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge, and not be eligible for any other VA education benefits or government job-training programs.

In addition, applicants must not be receiving disability compensation for reasons that have led to their unemployability, and not receiving any unemployment benefit when they begin training.

Several lawmakers have touted the initiative as a way to deal with the still-high unemployment levels among American veterans caused by the pandemic.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 5 percent of all veterans looking for work in March were unable to find stable employment, up from 2.9 percent a year earlier, before the start of the pandemic.

More information on the program and application forms are available at the VA web site.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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