WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 2, 2012) -- Unemployed veterans between 35 and 60 years old have an opportunity to begin a new career in one of more than 211 high-demand occupations by applying for enrollment in the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program launched as part of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

Sponsored by the Veterans Administration and the Department of Labor Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, offers up to 12 months of educational assistance to veterans enrolled in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school.

The program the vet chooses must lead to an associate's degree, a non-college degree or certificate and train the veteran in one of the labor department's list of high-demand occupations. Online courses may be approved for VRAP. Programs of study at vocational flight schools, correspondence courses, on-the-job training, apprenticeship and work-study are not approved.

Applicants to VRAP will have until March 31, 2014 to apply. After that date, the funding program ends. While enrolled in a full-time educational program, participants receive direct monetary assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty program. That rate is currently capped at $1,473 per month. Vets are responsible for paying tuition, fees and books.

Eligible VRAP applicants must be unemployed at the time of application and have other than dishonorable discharges. Additionally, they cannot be enrolled in a federal or state job training program or receiving VA compensation due to being unemployable. Veterans eligible for other VA education benefit programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill or Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment are not eligible for VRAP.

For Julius Ware II, an Army veteran who served with the 82nd from 1977 to 1981, his application and acceptance into the VRAP came at a time when he'd just lost his job with the Capitol Heights, Md., public works department.

Shortly after paying a visit to the Washington, D.C., unemployment office and filing necessary paperwork to get himself back into the working world, he received a call from his veteran's job counselor who told him about the VRAP program.

"When this VRAP program came up, she immediately called me because she thought I was well-qualified, so I was interviewed and selected to be one of the first participants," said Ware, who while in the Army was a chemical operations specialist.

After he left the Army he used his VA educational bill to become an electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Ware also co-founded the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, a national organization that represents the interests of minority electricians.

"I think it's a good time to be a veteran," Ware said. "Those of us in the 35-60 age range often fall through the cracks, so I think it's wonderful the government has come up with this program to address our needs. Oftentimes, between 35-60, if you're out of a job, it's a lot harder to get retraining. If the opportunity is there, you can't afford to capitalize on it because life gets in the way, so I think this a great opportunity."

Ware begins classes in construction management next month at Prince Georges Community College in Maryland. After he earns his associate's degree, he wants to work with a construction company or government agency which is devoted to identifying local residents and veterans and putting them into entry-level positions in the building trades.

"Helping people get jobs is important to me, so my goal upon graduating is to be in a position where I can assist myself but also reach out and help veterans in advancing their positions," Ware said.

While many might consider 53 on the downhill side of a working life, Ware has no intention of retiring.

"People don't necessarily retire when they love what they do and enjoy the rigorous atmosphere of going to work, doing fulfilling things, getting gratification from a job-well-done and seeing the fruits of their labor," he said. "I don't think I'll retire; I'll just slow down."

Related Links:

Veterans Retraining Assistance Program High Demand Occupations

VOW to Hire Veterans Act of 2011 -- Veterans Retraining Assistance Program

Panetta: Program will help transitioning troops get jobs

DOD to improve voluntary education safeguards

Army.mil: Inside the Army News

Army.mil: U.S. Army Veterans

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Transition GPS: Transforming the Transition Assistance Program