Returning veterans have more options for job training, thanks to new benefits for vets who served since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill was revised so that after Oct. 1 last year, new benefits will pay for non-degree education, such as training to become an aircraft dispatcher. Congress passed the legislation, which applies to service members after Sept. 10, 2001, and the president signed it in February.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill originally covered only training pursued at degree-granting institutions of higher learning, said Randy Noller, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Sonoran Wings Flight Training Centre of Tucson is one of the flight schools approved by the VA under the new rules, said Jerry Williams, Sonoran Wings president.
The original Post 9/11 GI Bill paid for tuition and other costs at institutions that provide degrees. But that left out schools like Sonoran Wings, which offers a Federal Aviation Administration-approved program to get an aircraft-dispatcher certificate.
"They made this funding available starting October 1, and now there's funding available other than four-year degree or diploma programs," said Jerry Williams, Sonoran Wings president.
Veterans pursuing flight training at a private institution may receive up to the full cost of the training or $10,000, whichever is less, Noller said.
Navy veteran Alex Gideon, 25, is among many vets who have used GI Bill funding to study at Pima Community College's Aviation Technology Program.
"The government has paid for every cent of my training," said Gideon, who will be graduating this month and hopes to become an aviation structural mechanic. "I'm afraid of failure because I'm going to have two kids and I want to provide for them and my wife. So I appreciate the safety blanket of the VA."
There are 16 veterans enrolled in Pima's Aviation Technology Program, which has more than 100 students, and school officials hope the number of veterans will increase as more service members return from the Middle East.
"We've seen an increase every year, and especially in the last four months," said Benetta Jackson, a program assistant.
Officials believe the added benefits will help many veterans looking for work.
"They made provisions to include other certificate and training programs not originally included in GI Bill, so it will help a lot of people out," said Maralynn Bernstein, Veterans Services Program coordinator and certifying officer at the University of Arizona.
Meanwhile, Sonoran Wings has seen more than 20 veterans apply for its program since the funds became available but they haven't been able to start, Williams said.
"We know of 23 that were trying to get into the dispatcher course and not a single one of them got any of their paperwork back," Williams said. "They need a certificate of eligibility for training, and without that they can't go forward."
Williams said VA officials have told him that the forms should be ready for his April classes.
Noller said there isn't a backlog, but that veterans should receive a response an average of 29 days after filing an original claim. The Department of Veteran Affairs could not authorize any payments to claims before Oct. 1.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides education and housing benefits to veterans who served since Sept. 10, 2001. Eligible veterans must have been honorably discharged after serving at least 90 days in aggregate, or 30 days for vets discharged with a service-connected disability.
For more information, go to the Department of Veterans Affairs' website at tinyurl.com/6v3okvp
To get more information by phone, call 1-888-442-4551.
Michelle A. Monroe is a University of Arizona journalism student and a NASA Space Grant intern. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org