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Proposed legislation in the Senate would allow schools with trucking programs to expand veterans’ access to commercial driver’s licenses as the U.S. trucking industry faces a shortage of drivers across the country.

Proposed legislation in the Senate would allow schools with trucking programs to expand veterans’ access to commercial driver’s licenses as the U.S. trucking industry faces a shortage of drivers across the country. (U.S. Department of Labor)

WASHINGTON — Two senators have introduced a bill that would allow schools with trucking programs to expand veterans' access to commercial driver's licenses as the trucking industry faces a shortage of drivers across the country.

The proposed legislation introduced by Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., would permit a new secondary campus with the same course of study as its primary accredited school to provide licenses to veterans if the campus is approved by a state agency.

At least one in 10 truckers are veterans, according to a census report from 2019. Nicholas Geale, vice president of workforce and labor policy at the American Trucking Associations, a national trade group, said in June that the trucker driver shortage is expected to double by 2030. The trucking trade group reported the industry was short 80,000 drivers in 2021.

While the industry needs long-haul drivers, Geale said the opportunities in the trucking industry fit every kind of schedule and work-life balance a veteran might desire.

"Many truck driving jobs have drivers on a regular schedule and home every night and/or weekly," he said. "Trucks these days have state-of-the-art technology both for driver safety and security and quality of life when they are on the road."

While veterans can utilize their G.I. Bill benefits to obtain a commercial driver's license, law requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny accredited schools' new secondary campuses to receive G.I. Bill benefits for two years. The law was implemented to help prevent veterans from being scammed by bogus schools.

The proposed legislation will expand the G.I. Bill by exempting trucking schools' new secondary campuses from the law and allowing them to accept education benefits.

"This bill not only supports our veterans by expanding work opportunities it would also help keep goods moving throughout our nation as we continue to face supply chain challenges," Padilla said in a prepared statement. "It will expand veterans' G.I. Bill benefits to help veterans pursue educational and career training opportunities while maintaining strong accrediting standards for institutions."

The secondary schools must submit a yearly report to the VA to ensure the curriculum is the same as that of the primary schools, as well as to ensure the curriculum does not exploit veterans or provide fraudulent courses.

Service members and veterans are 40% more likely to be exploited by financial fraud, including robocalls, suspicious texts and scam offers than their civilian counterparts, according to a recent AARP survey. More so, four out of five service members and veterans surveyed in 2021 reported they were targeted by scams directly related to their military service or benefits. In addition, the survey found one in three reported they lost money because of those scams.

AARP also reported that scams targeting G.I. Bill education benefits are one of the more common ones facing veterans. Twenty percent surveyed said they lost money due to education scams.

"This bill ensures that schools that have already demonstrated their commitment to quality training at reasonable prices for veterans should be able to provide that service without waiting two years in the event a veteran wants to use their benefits," Geale said.

In April, the White House took action to recruit veterans and troops leaving the service into some of the tens of thousands of vacancies in the commercial trucking industry by establishing a new task force.

Called the Task Force Movement: Life-Cycle Pathways for Veterans and Military into Trucking, the task force is a partnership between the trucking industry and leading veterans service organizations to develop an action plan to attract veterans and service members into the industry, as well as figure out how to retain them in trucking jobs.

Geale said the bill was already in development when the task force came together, and it is one issue the group is considering. He said ATA and task force members told him that a key component for veterans considering their post-service career in trucking is the local availability of quality training programs amid a six-month transition period before leaving the service. Their area of residence is another factor.

"Veterans leave the military with the skills and leadership qualities that our industry is built on, including valuing teamwork and service to the country as well as safety and attention to detail," Geale said. "Truck drivers earn a family-sustaining, middle-class wage and work independently, but they are also part of the team for the nation's supply chain — keeping us all fed, clothed and otherwise supplied with necessities."

He also said there are positions for military spouses and veterans who might not want to drive a truck, such as dispatchers, logistics experts, warehouse management, software designers, mechanics and technicians.

"Few such positions require a college degree with the debt that comes with it, and the industry has a long history of promoting from within with many executives having come from driver, dispatcher and junior management positions," Geale said.

He said the task force is assembling its report, including recommendations, and expects to release it on or near Veterans Day.

"Veterans have already given so much for our country — the last thing they need is more frustrating red tape that prevents them from pursuing a career that is essential to our modern economy," Fischer said in a prepared statement. "These technical changes will reverse unnecessary regulations and allow more veterans to take advantage of their G.I. benefits."

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Sara Samora is a Marine Corps veteran and the veterans reporter for Stars and Stripes. A native Texan, she previously worked at the Houston Business Journal and the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. She also serves on the boards of Military Veterans in Journalism and the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals.

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