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Vets to Get New Benefits

By Warren Wise
Special to

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are seeking job training will qualify for new benefits starting Saturday. The Post 9/11 GI Bill, which has already paid out $13 billion to 596,000 veterans and family members seeking higher education through two- and four-year degrees, is expanding to include vocational training and other non-degree job training for people who served in the two wars.

New benefits will cover tuition, books and a stipend for living expenses for those veterans who are not seeking four-year degrees, Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Josh Taylor said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity as they make the transition to the civilian work force to gain the skills necessary to achieve a good-paying job,” Taylor said.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end, more than 1 million service members are projected to leave the military between now and 2017, the VA said. The national unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 9.8 percent, Taylor said. It’s even higher for female veterans, standing at 16.6 percent.

In South Carolina, the number of unemployed veterans from the two wars is about 9.4 percent, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s website. Though that’s high, it is nowhere near the 29.4 percent rate for such veterans in Michigan, the state with the highest number of unemployed veterans from the two wars, according to the IAVA.

The national unemployment rate for all Americans was 9.1 percent in August. It was 11.1 percent in South Carolina. Abraham J. Turner, executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, said the increased benefits for veterans will pay off. The state agency provided services to 37,985 veterans from July 2010 to June 2011, spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said. Those services included jobless benefits, job training and interviewing skills, among others, for all veterans, she said. The agency does not break the numbers down by war.

Many student veterans already receive benefits under the existing Post 9/11 GI Bill. For instance, about 2,000 student veterans at Trident Technical College are going to school for free, according to Ellen Green, director of financial aid. She said the expanded benefits won’t affect Trident Tech as much as it will trade schools that offer services such as barber and cosmetology training. At Lacy School of Cosmetology in Goose Creek, president and founder Jay Lacy expects the change to increase the number of enrolled students. He now has about 50 to 60 students for the 10-month full-time program.

“It will open training availability to more people,” he said. “Free money is a lot better than student loans.” More than 40,000 veterans nationally are expected to take advantage of the new benefits under the expanded program, the VA estimated.

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