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Little known GI Bill funds could benefit many

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Most veterans know they can use their GI Bill to pay for the costs of their college education.

"[However] many veterans are not aware that they can use their GI Bill benefits in on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs with most businesses," said Pete Wheeler, Georgia Commissioner of Veterans Affairs.

The Georgia Department of Veterans Service's State Approving Agency has responsibility for approving OJT and apprenticeship programs for Georgia veterans.

"These programs are excellent ways to enable a veteran to acquire a skill under the supervision of an experienced worker in a practical 'hands-on' way."

During job training, a newly hired veteran employee, if eligible, can receive up to $13,212 tax-free supplemental income from his GI Bill during a two-year, experience-based training program.

Henry County's Police and Fire departments are two of 975 companies in Georgia that offer veterans' training under the GI Bill. Four veterans at the fire department and two at the police department have applied to use the funding for on-the job training, also known as OJT.

"Most of them go anywhere from six months to 18 months," said Abby Pruitt, administrative assistant with the Henry County Fire Department's training department.

Pruitt assists in helping provide the supplemental funds to the department's OJT participants, who are currently undertaking emergency training classes.

"It's kind of like an extra bonus to them," Pruitt said of the GI Bill funding. "Most of them are young and [have a] family and could use the extra money, but don't have time for part-time jobs. It's a big plus to them and helps them an awful lot."

National Guardsmen and reservists may also be eligible, if they are currently under a six-year contract or qualify for the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) by having been called to active duty for at least 90 consecutive days since Sept. 11, 2001.

Also eligible to apply for OJT and apprenticeship benefits are the spouses and dependents of veterans with a 100 percent VA disability rating.

"Employers can also benefit from this," said Commissioner Wheeler. "The monetary benefits a veteran receives should motivate that individual to perform at a higher level and, in turn, enhance business operations."

There are no direct payments to the employer. Payments are made directly to the veteran and are intended to serve as a salary supplement during the training period.

"Veterans typically are experienced, mature, and disciplined individuals with positive work habits," he said. "They have proven employment histories, learn quickly, are highly motivated and follow instructions well."

To use GI Bill benefits while enrolled in an OJT or apprenticeship program, a veteran must work 30 hours or more during the workweek, and the employer must agree to establish the program.

"Employers direct the training, thereby ensuring the veteran becomes familiar with job tasks, equipment, and company policies," according to Bill Jung, director of Georgia's State Approving Agency. "However, the employee's training must meet the standards established by federal regulations."

Approved training programs are evaluated annually by agency representatives to determine their initial and continued compliance with federal regulations.

OJT and apprenticeship programs may be approved in a wide variety of occupations. Some are in trades that relate to military occupations, but many are not. Some of the currently approved programs include: administration, law enforcement, diesel mechanics, electronics, and plumbing.

"It is not something that is well known, even though we strive to advertise this in Georgia all the time," Jung said. "About two months ago, some 10,600 students in Georgia were using their GI Bill, and the overwhelming majority were in school. [Only] about 500 individuals are using the OJT training."

Jung noted that for individuals, the GI Bill expires 10 years after they leave the service. For more information, visit the department's web site at www.sdvs.georgia.gov.