How Veterans Can Get Free Training if They Lost a Job to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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(U.S. Army)

The year 2020 was hard on all of us, but it was harder on some than others. The United States lost an estimated 10 million jobs during the global COVID-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the December 2019 veteran unemployment rate was at an all-time low of 2.9%. At the height of the pandemic, it was a staggering 11.3%, and by December 2020, it dropped to 6.3%. The number hasn’t stabilized since.

All this means is that if a veteran lost a job due to COVID-19, they aren’t alone. Some veterans and family members may feel like the Department of Veterans Affairs has nothing to offer if they’ve used all of their GI Bill benefits or aren’t eligible for Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) or the Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP).

But that’s not the case. For those who aren’t currently eligible for GI Bill benefits or any of the other programs the VA offers for educational and vocational training, they still can find help with Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP).

The VRRAP offers the same coverage for training that would be eligible under the GI Bill or Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses, but it’s intended to provide associates-level and certification training for the most high-demand careers in America.

Best of all, it’s a program that offers 12 months of training and a living stipend similar to the one provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill -- along with the same rates.

These high-demand career fields (as determined by the Department of Labor) contain the usual information technology, medical and skilled trade jobs offered by many public, private and nonprofit veteran employment programs. They also offer training in other fields, such as bookkeeping, sales, business management, barber and salon training, and more.

Schools and training programs may vary by location. Simply choose the school you might want to attend -- online training is available for some programs -- from the VRRAP-approved institutions list and see what careers and degree or certificate programs are available for the school you want to attend.

It’s important to know that veterans eligible for other programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, aren’t eligible for the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program. Veterans must be between 22 and 66 years old, unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, not 100% disabled and not currently enrolled in another federal or state jobs program.

Veterans also cannot receive VRRAP benefits and training while getting unemployment or CARES Act benefits.

The VRRAP will be only available to 17,250 participants, and payments will end on Dec. 11, 2022, or when the $386 million funding is spent.

To get started, check out the possible career fields listed by the Department of Labor and see whether your local college or training institute from the approved institutions list on the VA’s website offers that training. (If it doesn’t, you can try to find another local school that does.) Then go to the VA’s Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program website to apply.

Facing unemployment due to the catastrophic global pandemic and the resulting economic backlash may mean hard times, but this is a way for veterans to get new training in a high-demand career field for free -- and get paid to do it.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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