Eligible Veterans with a service-connected disability looking to gain job experience can apply for positions through the VA Non-Paid Work Experience Program, or NPWE.

Veterans and service members gain training and practical job experience through the program. This program is beneficial for those who learn well in a hands-on setting and may have had a hard time getting a job due to lack of experience.

Only federal, state or local government agencies can have NPWE programs. The employer may hire a Veteran or service member at any point during the program.

How to start

Veterans can get started by creating an eBenefits account at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/homepage. Once there, Veterans select “Additional Benefits” from the Dashboard, then select “Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program.” After reading about the program and updating contact information, Veterans can apply for either the “Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program” or “Education/Career Counseling.”

Alternatively, Veterans can fill out VA Form 1900 at https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-28-1900-ARE.pdf and submit to the nearest VA office.

If a Veteran is eligible, the next stop is a Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) regional office. A Veteran receives contact from the closest office for an orientation and appointment date.

When Veterans attend that orientation, they will meet with a vocational rehabilitation counselor, said Timothy Johnston, supervisor of Employment Services. That vocational rehabilitation counselor is part of the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) program. That counselor evaluates the Veteran to determine skills, abilities and interests.

Johnston said vocational rehabilitation counselors can advise Veterans on opportunities in their area. He said often times VA medical centers have open opportunities for Veterans. Veterans also benefit from VA’s partnerships with more than a dozen other federal agencies in addition to state and local government. If the NPWE is not the best option for the Veteran, the counselor can offer other employment and training options.

Current opening example

An example is currently underway at the Pentagon, located in Northern Virginia. There, the Federal Facilities Division has 100 openings, said Leon King, the deputy director of operations.

The positions are trade skills, such as welding, electrical and carpentry. King said the maintenance mechanics use various trade skills, which allows the division to place Veterans with a job they excel in.

“We take the Veteran from general knowledge to operational by the time the program is completed,” King said. They will also be able to add the training to their resumes and qualify for the positions that they were trained in throughout the government.”

King said he usually has 60 jobs open, so participants stand a great chance to convert to paid positions. Additionally, he said people also qualify with other agencies and can contact special employment coordinators. Because Veterans have special hiring preferences, many find work quickly.

Success story

Francis Kim is a rating specialist serving with the VBA regional office in Los Angeles who started under the NPWE program.

After serving in the Marine Corps from 1994-1998, Kim met with a Veterans service representative while studying at North Carolina State University. At the time, Kim majored in computer science.

About ten years later–after marrying and having two children–Kim and his family were in dire straits. He couldn’t find a job in Southern California due to the economy. In December 2008, he started the NPWE program in Los Angeles. Following his time in the program, he landed a job.

“I am very thankful for people who work for VR&E and its service program,” Kim said, citing multiple counselors who helped him on his path. “VR&E services contributed greatly to make me live independently and maintain employment.”

For more information

Veterans can learn more information on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment opportunities at https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/index.asp.

Federal, state or local government agencies can learn more about creating an NPWE program at https://www.benefits.va.gov/VOCREHAB/docs/Non-paidWorkExperience.pdf.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Mar. 24, 2020

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