WASHINGTON — Service members could use their military tuition assistance for training programs outside of traditional colleges and universities under legislation being introduced Monday in the House and Senate.

The plan, offered by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in each chamber, would allow eligible troops to use the money for licensing, credentialing and certification programs offered outside of institutions of higher education.

Backers said the change is needed to help better prepare service members for post-military life, and recognizes that not all civilian jobs require a traditional four-year degree.

“We have an obligation to ensure service members have access to the resources they need as they transition to civilian life,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is co-sponsoring the Senate proposal with the chamber’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“Service members possess unique skill sets that make them great candidates for many in-demand jobs, but the current system makes it difficult for service members to obtain the licensing or credentialing needed for those jobs. As many skills based jobs do not require four-year degrees, [this bill] would allow service members to receive the [assistance] they need in a more expedient manner.”

Veterans can already use their post-military education benefits for a host of non-college certification programs, particularly for specialties such as truck driving and emergency medical training.

But tuition assistance provided to currently serving troops has a separate set of rules and restrictions. Nearly all of the funding supplied under current initiatives is based on how many credit hours service members complete as part of degree programs.

Tester called it a “commonsense measure” that provides more flexibility in preparation for a modern civilian workforce.

“The jobs of the 21st century evolve quickly, and today’s workers never stop learning,” he said in a statement. “We’re committed to helping our service members succeed at every stage: on active-duty, in the reserves or as a veteran.”

Transition assistance for troops has been a major focus for lawmakers in recent years, with a focus on allowing service members to more easily transfer their military skills to civilian-sector jobs.

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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