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WASHINGTON — Troops who don’t use their GI bill benefits for college tuition can receive nearly $15,000 as a paycheck supplement at their first job, under a rarely used program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But there is a catch: The money is contingent upon the employer offering a VA-approved job training program, which many businesses know little about.

Dennis Douglass, acting director of the VA education office, said the job training money has been an option for separated servicemembers since the 1970s, but makes up less than 5 percent of the payouts made by his department.

Most troops are familiar with the education benefits available under the GI Bill, a host of initiatives passed after World War II to help troops prepare for the workforce upon returning home.

Under current rules, active duty members must contribute $100 of their first 12 months pay to be eligible for the program. This year separated troops can receive up to $1,034 a month for 36 months of tuition at the college or university of their choice.

But Douglass said those who paid for the GI Bill benefits but decide not to go to college can recoup a portion of that money in lieu of tuition if they start an entry level job and participate in a legitimate job training program.

“The idea is that they are trainees, and they’ll be getting incremental wage increases as they learn their new job,” he said. “And for this period, since they’re drawing less than a fully trained employee’s wage, this can help cover the gap.”

For the first six months, the benefit is 85 percent of the full tuition payout, currently $878.90 a month. After that it drops to 65 percent — or $672.10 — for the next six months, and finally to 45 percent for one additional year.

Many of those currently receiving the benefit are for jobs like mechanics or policemen, where new workers typically go through some sort of apprenticeship for their first few months.

Douglass said employers must file paperwork with state- proved agencies showing that they are providing supervision and practical training for the former troops to be eligible for the payouts. The business must also promise not to reduce the veteran’s pay to offset the VA supplement.

“There’s no advantage for the company, other than they’ll be known as a veteran-friendly employer,” he said. “But it is a chance to get a valuable employee, and for that veteran to get their benefits and move on in life.”

Like the education benefits, the job training money must be claimed within 10 years of the servicemember’s separation from the military. It can only be used for a veteran’s first job, and cannot be claimed if that post is a supervisory or advanced worker position.

Douglass said he suspects few people take advantage of the benefit because most troops still see college tuition as a better long-term opportunity.

“But we know there is a certain percentage who may not even consider college, but still have the benefit waiting for them,” he said. “So this is to help them find what else is out there.”

For more information on the GI bill benefits, or to contact the VA about eligibility requirements, visit www.gibill.va.gov.


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