A Department of Veterans Affairs high-tech job training program that has proven popular among veterans but was given mixed marks by a government watchdog is a step closer to lasting beyond this year.
The House on Wednesday evening voted 409-9 to approve a bill that would extend the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses, or VET-TEC, program for another five years. The "no" votes came from eight Republicans and one Democrat.
"The authorization of the VET-TEC training program will empower a new wave of veterans when transitioning from their time in uniform to the workforce," Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., the bill's sponsor, said in a statement after the House vote.
The VET-TEC program was approved by Congress in 2017 as a pilot program that is set to expire at the end of the year. The program, which was first proposed in a bill sponsored by now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gives GI Bill-like benefits to veterans pursuing training in computer software, programming, data processing and other high-tech fields.
While VET-TEC offers similar benefits to the GI Bill and veterans have to be eligible for the GI Bill to participate in the program, going through the training does not count against a veteran's GI Bill entitlement.
By the VA's estimate, about 12,000 veterans have gone through the program, with about 8,000 finding full-time employment in the technology industry afterward. The program was popular enough that lawmakers in 2020 voted to expand eligibility and bump funding up from the original $15 million per year to $45 million.
But an October 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, suggested the VA's method for measuring employment was flawed. While the VA reported a 66% job placement rate from the program, the GAO said standard methods for calculating employment rates used by other federal agencies would put the program's employment rate at 46%.
Still, the GAO called VET-TEC "promising" and noted it could provide a quicker path to employment than degree-granting programs.
The bill approved Wednesday would authorize the program through 2028 and allow up to 6,000 veterans to enroll annually.
The bill still must pass the Senate before becoming law. It was introduced in the Senate this week by Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. If and when the upper chamber will take it up is unclear, but King expressed hope that it can pass "swiftly."
"The VET-TEC program has been an exceptional resource for thousands of veterans looking for good-paying jobs in the tech sector," King said in a statement Tuesday. "It's a commonsense step to give even more veterans access to opportunities in tech and encourage the private sector to hire those who served."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.