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Originally published Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Auditors find low enrollment in vets jobs program

A job-training program designed to help veterans re-enter the workforce has more than 60,000 empty slots, left unfilled despite efforts to reduce the jobless rate among veterans, federal auditors said in a new report.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

A job-training program designed to help veterans re-enter the workforce has more than 60,000 empty slots, left unfilled despite efforts to reduce the jobless rate among veterans, federal auditors said in a new report.

The program is geared toward unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60. It covers up to one year of tuition for training at local community colleges in high-demand jobs such as nursing, construction and computer support.

In all, Congress allowed for up to 99,000 participants, and the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs found that only about a third of the slots were being used. Veterans have until Oct. 1 to apply for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

The program is just one of a range of education benefits for veterans. Most of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan quality for one of the others, so they're not eligible for this particular program.

Ryan Gallucci, a deputy director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that veterans groups were not anticipating such low participation. He said that some veterans may be having trouble finding an eligible community college nearby. He also said that basic remediation classes weren't aid for through the program, which is setting up some veterans for failure and discouraging them from participating.

The monthly stipend for those participating in the program is $1,564. The inspector general said it was recommending that the VA begin contacting veterans who have been deemed eligible for the program but have yet to enroll to remind them that participation is limited. The VA said it agreed with the recommendation and had already made contact with 44,000 eligible veterans.

Curtis Coy, a deputy undersecretary at the VA, told lawmakers at a hearing last week that the department also supports legislation that would extend the program. He said that a three-month extension would give more veterans time to select and complete their degree or certificate program.

The department also estimated that enrollment has increased some since the inspector general conducted the review, and it has so far issued $220 million in benefit payments to about 41,400 beneficiaries.

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