Vets in Training
Schools, training centers, and other organizations are working with the VA to help U.S. veterans get the necessary tools you need to become active in the IT workforce.
Getting training and certification is hard. It takes
dedication and determination. But that's where veterans
have an advantage. We understand about sacrifice. What
we don't always understand is how to take advantage of
all the benefits we're entitled to. As a vet, I know how
difficult it can be at times to get started working with
the Veteran's Administration (VA). But more and more,
schools, training centers, companies, and organizations
are setting up programs with the VA to help veterans get
the necessary tools you need to become active in the IT
workforce. In this article, I'll share some of the highlights
of getting training and certification for veterans reentering
the workforce as qualified IT staff.
The Most Notable Benefit
I'm going to make my disclaimer right up front. As all
veterans know, when dealing with the government, things
can change almost immediately and without so much as a
hint of notice. Also, this article isn't meant to be a
bible for vets wanting to be certified professionals.
Consider it a brief synopsis of some of the issues involved
in the whole process. So, let's make a deal. I'll give
you a quick blast of info you can use. You talk to a VA
representative before jumping in with both feet armed
with information that I put out here. Fair enough?
The most notable VA benefit is the Chapter 30 Montgomery
GI Bill (MGIB). This benefit acts on the $1,200 initial
investment made during a service member's first year of
service. Under the current rates, the veteran can get
$24,300 of benefits (even though that number is a bit
higher as rates increase from time to time.) This is paid
out in 36 months, at $672 a month, across 10 years from
the date of last recorded service. It's been historically
noted as the benefit that changed America.
Vocational Rehabilitation, or VR, is a benefit for those
who aren't employable due to a service-connected disability,
such as a major injury or illness. It's a 48-month service
that can span across 12 years from the time the disability
was identified. During this time, VA provides monetary
support, job placement and counseling for the veteran.
The whole purpose is to get the training and support necessary
to overcome the employment handicap and rejoin the workforce
in a way that fits the veteran's unique needs and talents.
Both benefits can provide significant amounts of assistance
to veterans going into the IT world. Bear in mind that
there are a lot of things to consider when activating
and using your benefits.
A crucial thing to do before tapping your VA benefits
is to consider the laws of your state. A lot of states
have programs to help veterans. (For example, if you live
in Illinois, the state will cover all your education costs,
leaving the MGIB available as tax-free cash.) If you have
any questions about the use of any VA benefit, you should
log on to the VA Web site (www.va.gov). Better yet, pay
a visit to your local VA office and meet face to face
with a counselor.
For most IT professionals looking for a credential, the
certification test represents the end of the ordeal. But
there's more than one way to get there. You can get training
at a university, training centers, or at a short-term
course, such as an MCSE boot camp. But before you go to
just any training center or college to get that high-speed
class in SQL Server, make sure they can certify with VA.
If they can't, you can't use your VA benefits to account
for the costs. There should be a VA counselor affiliated
with that training center who will be able to advise you
What about self study? This is the method that a lot
of folks use to train and certify. There are definite
advantages: It takes place at your own pace and schedule.
The problem is that you can't certify with the VA. That
means the MGIB won't pay for your materials. The reason
has to do with accreditation and how much time you spend
under instruction. It would be too easy for students to
lie to the VA about how much time they're allocating for
The key thing to understand is that the VA pays out benefits
based on time enrolled in training, not on the actual
cost of the course. Universities are slower, but you get
more benefits; boot camps are much, much faster and accrue
limited benefits for you. It doesn't matter what the cost
of the course is. If you can get good low-cost training
at the expense of stretching it out a couple of months,
that will be to your ultimate benefit.
For example, let's say you want to use your GI Bill to
cover an MCSE boot camp. The training lasts two calendar
weeks, starting on Monday morning and ending Friday afternoon
that next week, at the cost of $5,000. MGIB will only
cover you for your time, not how much the boot camp costs
you. If you were going full-time, you'd get $672 per month
(based on a 30-day month). You're awarded for the number
of days the course lasts. Since the boot camp is 12 calendar
days (you do get credit for the weekend), you'll get $268.80
from the VA. The formula looks like this:
(Number of Days in
Training/30) * Full-time Benefit = Amount
For the example above, (12/30) * $672 = $268.80
Going this route may bite you in the end.
The MGIB is meant to be a long-term training benefit,
so I encourage you to use it that way. In fact, consider
using it the way it was intended: as a way to get through
college. Many universities offer courses in IT training,
including CompTIA's A+ and Microsoft's MCSE credentials.
The classes will stretch on for longer than a month, so
more of the benefit is realized as time goes on. And at
the end of the day, you'll spend about the same amount
of money in tuition as the boot camp, get the training
you need, and won't be hit with information overload to
the point where you're quivering at the end of the training.
You'll have the necessary time with the product that you
need to take the test right and not be a paper cert.
VA benefits are getting better. With the announcement
of reimbursement of certification testing fees, the VA
has begun to work with folks who need the money to pass
those MCSE exams. Essentially, you go to the testing center,
take your test, get the printout, and fill out VA Form
22-1990 (available on the GI Bill Web site). Send all
that into your VA office, based on your state. The addresses
are here: http://www.gibill.va.gov/Education/LCVets.htm.
Bear in mind that the cap is $2,000 or the cost of the
test, whichever is least.
How will that affect your overall benefits? The VA has
decided to convert the test cost into equivalent time.
If you spent $200 to get through two tests, that would
equal nine days of benefits, which would be deducted from
your overall total of 36 months.
When you send in your reimbursement request, be ready
to wait a little bit. Since the program is new, it can
take up to eight weeks to get your money back from the
VA. As time goes on and vets use this benefit, the delay
time will be shorter.
On average, only a tenth of all veterans ever use their
VA benefits, and some never use their GI Bill. TheVA has
a lot of good things to offer folks who are ready to get
out of service and into the IT world. But it won't happen
unless you look into it and take advantage of what's available.
Good luck to you on your training and certification pursuits!
And good luck in your next form of service!
Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.