Transitioning from military to civilian life is a stressful and often overwhelming experience. The pressure by family, friends and society to earn a degree and start a successful career can weigh heavy on the shoulders of our transitioning service members and Veterans. Many believe that the only way to succeed is to get a 4-year degree, but is it always the right choice?

February is Career and Technical Education Month and VA’s Education Service wants to celebrate the importance of skilled trade workers by highlighting the available alternative education paths. Here are a few ways to utilize your benefits, if the “traditional” track is not the route you want to take:

  1. On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship. Using the GI Bill®, you can learn a trade while also receiving funds for books, supplies and housing. US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the 2020 median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is $56,330. VA has partnered with hundreds of local unions and approved employers across the nation in a variety of skilled trades, from plumbing to hotel management. Once you are in an approved program (which may require a training contract), you will begin to earn wages in addition to the tax-free housing, books and supplies payments.
  2. Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC). In collaboration with companies across the nation, training providers connect you with a training program to meet high-demand occupation areas, such as computer software and programming, information science and media applications.
  3. Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) is a great option for Veterans who have lost their job because of COVID-19 and are seeking a new opportunity. The Department of Labor identified high-demand jobs in fields such as education, health care and technology. To be eligible, you must be at least 22 years old, but not older than 66; be unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic; and not be rated as totally disabled because you can’t work; and not be enrolled in a federal or state jobs program. In addition, you cannot be eligible for other federal education and training benefits. VRRAP will provide up to 12 months of tuition and fees as well as a monthly housing allowance based on Post-9/11 GI Bill rates. To discover more about this program, click on the link: Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) | Veterans Affairs (
  4. Non-College Degree Programs. You don’t have to sacrifice earning potential by choosing a skilled trade. Growth and career advancement are attainable opportunities for those who specialize in a certain skill or trade. In the construction field, you can become a foreman or superintendent. As a truck driver or cosmetologist, you can obtain an independent license and be your own boss. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 19-percent growth rate for cosmetology in the next decade. For heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, it is anticipated that 231,100 job openings will open yearly between 2020-2030. We encourage Veterans, service members and their dependents to review the many approved Non-College Degree Programs offered on our website.

For Career and Technical Education Month, VA encourages you to explore the education and training options available. If you have questions or need assistance, please Ask VA or contact the Educational Call Center at 888-442-4551 between 7AM and 6PM Central Time, Monday-Friday.

By Jennifer Gillan is a management analyst for VBA’s Education Service

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Published on Feb. 1, 2022

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