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Witness Testimony of The Honorable Bill Johnson (OH-06)

Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and Members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you on H.R. 1357, legislation I introduced to amend the definition of “full-time” for technical training programs under the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP.
As an Air Force veteran who served as a Subcommittee Chairman on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last Congress, I was proud to support the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.  This important legislation provided several provisions to assist unemployed veterans, including improvements to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), veterans tax credits, requirements for translating military skills and training into commercial opportunities, and expanded educational and training benefits, including VRAP.
The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) provides unemployed veterans aged 35 through 60, who are not eligible for other VA education benefit programs, up to 12 months of full-time training assistance.  Over 53,000 veterans are enrolled in training programs through VRAP, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is still accepting applications from eligible veterans.  

An unintended shortfall of VRAP came to my attention last fall when unemployed veterans in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, who were approved for VRAP, were unable to find eligible technical training programs for their chosen occupation.  The reason being, that programs approved for VRAP must be full-time, which is defined as requiring 18-22 “seat-time” hours.  As these veterans discovered, the majority of technical training programs that are considered to be full-time outside of the VA’s definition fall short of VRAP’s seat-time requirement.

For example, several veterans from Ohio’s 6th District wished to use their approved VRAP benefits to do a welding program – an occupation on the rise in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio due to increased oil and gas development in the region.  While there were welding programs available in the area, they did not meet the seat-time hour requirement.  Some of these programs, such as the welding program at the Washington County Career Center, are even approved by the VA under regular GI Benefits, but as part-time programs.  As programs under VRAP must be full-time, these veterans were approved for VRAP benefits, but unable to use them.

H.R. 1357 is intended to fix this unintended obstacle and expand opportunities for unemployed veterans to complete technical training programs.  Specifically, this legislation would amend the VRAP definition of full-time for technical training programs, to only require 16 seat-time hours, so long as these programs are also approved by the VA for other educational benefits.  
The purpose of VRAP is to give America’s veterans access and the opportunity to enhance their skills, enabling them to better compete in today’s job market.  In my view, the difference of a few seat-time hours should not prevent a veteran from taking a training program that will enhance their ability to be hired – particularly if the veteran ends up with a comparable certificate or degree from other institutions that require slightly more seat-time hours.
Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, thank you again for the opportunity to speak on this important legislation, H.R. 1357.  I am hopeful that this legislation will be favorably considered by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, so as to provide our nation’s unemployed heroes with more opportunities to enhance their skills and find gainful employment.