Burns-Pryor Job Training Measure for Veterans Advances
Senator Mark Pryor announced that major components of the Veterans Education and Training Act (VET Act), a bill he introduced with Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) to expand job training opportunities for veterans, passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today and has been included as part of broader legislation to improve veterans benefits. The legislation is now ready to be considered by the full Senate.
When testifying on the importance of his legislation during the Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on June 8th, Pryor said his legislation could help turn around the dismal unemployment rate for young veterans. He stated that unemployment among veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 years old is over 15 percentnearly double the unemployment for non-veterans in the same age group.
"We have soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are having a hard time finding work, and we have sectors, such as the trucking industry that are expecting high growth over the next few years," Pryor said. "My measure helps match veterans with these quality, well-paying jobs, and it provides qualified employees to help companies fill these jobs. I'm pleased the Committee agrees this solution as a win-win opportunity for our veterans, businesses and the economy."
Pryor said the Veterans Administration offers a number of programs to help active duty troops make the transition back into the work force as part of the G.I. Bill. One of those programs is the Accelerated Payment Program, which provides lump-sum education payments for one term, quarter, or semester at a time to veterans who enroll in high-tech training programs, instead of the smaller monthly stipend for veterans who participate in all other educational opportunities. Pryor's measure will expand the number of job training programs eligible for the Accelerated Payment Program to include the trucking, construction, hospitality and energy industries, which the Department of Labor has identified to add large numbers of jobs to the economy in the coming years. To ensure the measure remained budget neutral, the Committee eliminated 10 additional sectors identified in the original VET Act and scheduled the program to effect Oct. 1, 2007 and sunset September 30, 2011.
Pryor said many training programs for high-growth career fields are short-term and high-cost in nature. For example, he said truck driver training courses typically last 4 to 6 weeks, but cost $4,000 to $6,000. At most, G.I. bill benefits offset only about $1,000 to $1,500 of the tuition, discouraging veterans from using their G.I. bill benefits for these kinds of training programs. Accelerated benefits, as proposed by Pryor and Burns, will cover 60% of the cost of such programs ($3,600 in the case of truck driver training) and the benefits can be paid as a lump-sum rather than on a monthly basis.