Sunday, August 19, 2012

VRAP vent

I started to write a letter to congressman, senators, Veteran's Administration peeps, etc to complain about limitations placed upon an otherwise worthy attempt to retrain and help unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60.

I really don't know how effective such a letter writing campaign would be, but I know I can reach some people via a blog post, so here goes...

My name is Brian M. Merrill.  Aside from my time enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Infantryman, I have lived in Elizabeth, West Virginia for the past 40 years.

In May, the Veteran’s Administration announced a new program called VRAP (Veteran’s Retraining Assistance Program), targeting unemployed veterans who fell through the GI Bill cracks.  The program is essentially a monthly stipend that approved veterans can use to get either a Professional Certificate or an Associate’s Degree in a “high demand” occupation.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Photography on this list of approved occupations.  I found that the Art Institute of Pittsburgh had an online course of study that awarded a Professional Certificate upon successful completion of the course.  Armed with this information I applied via the VA’s online “ebenefits” web site.

I applied for the program in June, designating the Art Institute as my school of choice and Photography as my course of study.  Recently I received notice that I was approved for the program.  I have been out of work since June of 2011, so you can imagine how happy I was to receive the approval notice.  I have wanted to be a photographer “when I grew up” since I was 6 years old, so this seemed like a miracle, a real dream come true kind of opportunity for me.

When I contacted the Art Institute’s Veteran’s coordinator, she said that she had been informed by the VA that because they also granted 4 year degrees, they were not qualified for the program.

I assumed (bad thing to do when dealing with bureaucracy) that the letter acknowledging my eligibility encompassed the school and program I had indicated on the application.  WRONG.  That would make too much sense in the real world.  The Certificate of Eligibility is just the beginning.  The veteran is then tasked with finding a suitable "community college" (do those things really exist anymore?) or technical school that does NOT (god forbid) offer any 4 year degree.

The problem is, over the past 10-15 years, both of these have become either extinct along with the dinosaur, or had found ways to partner with larger universities to offer some 4 year degrees, which supposedly disqualifies them from the VRAP program.  Since the late 80's or 90's, community colleges found the only way they could compete was by partnering with 4 year degree granting universities.

After doing a little research, I found that indeed there were no “eligible” community colleges anywhere in the State of West Virginia.  While only 10 miles from me there stands a former community college that has long since affiliated with West Virginia University to allow local students to earn 4 year degrees in a handful of subjects.

I also found that nearly 20 states have this same situation.  All of their community colleges had agreements with larger schools so they could offer 4 year degrees as a matter of convenience for their local students.
So it seems like we have a program that is supposed to help unemployed veterans but in effect forces those who reside in 19-20 states to attend schools out of state, thereby incurring travel costs, higher tuition, and general inconvenience.

For my own example, I found Columbus State Community College (CSCC) over 100 miles away from me that does not offer 4 year degrees and is qualified for VRAP participating students.  There is no conceivable way I can commute or relocate to this school.  From the pictures on their web site it looks like an extension of high school.

To further confuse matters, thousands of otherwise qualified veterans have flooded the VA with complaints over the exclusion of 4 year institutions that also grant Professional Certificates.  So it appears the VA has reconsidered and is now allowing “some” 4 year schools to provide schooling to VRAP qualified students.

Again, in my case, the Art Institute did not originally appear on the list of schools found by searching via this, VA recommended, web site ( ).  On a VA online forum, one advisor provides a walkthrough of which criteria to select to see a list of qualified schools.  Two months later, using their recommended criteria for searching, I found that the Art Institute DOES show up on the list.

I discovered this last piece of information over the weekend, so I haven't had time to contact the Veteran's coordinator at the Art Institute to verify whether their school is now a qualified outlet for the program or not. So I'll wait until tomorrow and find see what they have to say.

That's the end of the letter for now...

It's not often that I believe in some government originated "program" that's supposed to "help us".  Now that I see how they build in specific exclusions to educational outlets that are better qualified to provide suitable training than the ones they prefer, I understand now how I never expected much from the VA or any other part of the federal government.  They always seem to find a way to fuck it up.



  1. Hey Brian, Hope all is well. This is my response to a VRAP email received 22 February2013 RE: According to our records, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued you a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for VRAP but you have not yet enrolled in school.
    I HAVE enrolled in school, Licensed Vocational Nurse certification at Alvin Community College in Alvin Texas. I was approved in November 2012 for a course that will not start until June 2013 and will not end until May 2014 - as in - "Can I apply for VRAP before I start training?
    Answer ID 1455 | Published 06/21/2012 03:13 PM | Updated 06/21/2012 03:13 PM
    Yes, the earlier the better as applications may be received through October 1,
    2013, or once we have 99,000 participants, whichever comes first." (please refer to
    Unfortunately, I - and I am sure many others in my situation - will not be able to reap the full rewards of what can only be described as a "feel good" program in that those unfortunate individuals accepted as March 31 (or sequestration for that matter) draws near, will be limited to the clock that is March 31 2014. I sincerely appreciate the willingness of whatever powers that be who instituted this program on behalf of veterans but I more firmly believe that not a whole lot of thought went into it. I feel that although the initial receipients in all likelihood benefitted from this program as it was advertised, the vast remaining majority of us will be left in an unfinished and frustrated status attempting to reach our goals.
    Regarding the statement "We want to make sure that you maximize your benefits by pursuing up to 12 months of training. To receive the full 12 months of benefits, however, you have to begin your training program by the end of March this year." It was only recently, after talking to my VA Representative at the college in February that I was made aware of the "...March this year." limitations.
    "If you plan on enrolling in a program that lasts 12 months or longer, you must enroll in school by March 31, 2013 to receive the full amount of the benefit." I have enrolled in a 12 month program, unfortunately it starts June 2013 and finishes May 2014. This kinda puts me, and others in similar situations in a precarious position.
    "VRAP benefits can only be paid for training that is pursued on a full-time basis." See the previous statement to form your own opinion on the catch-22 that you have placed upon the individuals that sign up for this program as 31 March approaches. If an unemployed Vet were to be approved for VRAP in January 2014, for instance, and his education was a 12 month program? How ignorant would he feel. Add to that the same individual not starting classes until May of 2014 - "Congratulations! Your acceptance into the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) is the first step towards retraining for a new career in a high demand field" but unfortunately your benefits ended two months ago.
    Finally, I will address this statement "It’s important for VA to know if you do not plan on using your benefits---we could open your spot to someone else. To withdraw from VRAP, please visit the VRAP website and follow the instructions under the “Withdraw from VRAP” link." I intend to use VRAP to the extent that it can possibly serve me, recognizing its obvious faults, now, I am still unemployed so anything is better than nothing.
    Sincerely, Kevin M Shelton -

  2. This "program" was a photo opportunity, the press ate it up as being wonderful, yet it is bullshit for over 50% of those it is intended to help.'re willing to relocate to a state that still HAS fucking outdated community colleges. WAKE UP federal politicians...20 years ago these formerly podunk "colleges" were encouraged to affiliate with REAL, 4 year and beyond degree granting Universities to avoid becoming antiquated and irrelevant.

    Yet, this bullshit, VRAP program REQUIRES the veteran to find one of these dinosaur institutions to participate and attend.

    I'm not the type to have my hands out waiting for government money, but it pisses me off to know that the combined knowledge and effort of the VA, Congress, and the President can't come up with a better, less restricting way of helping people like me, who chose to serve during the beginning of their prime earning years.

  3. One more added comment, THE WORST part of this program is that it creates hope, only to take it away again, arbitrarily.

    As a "qualified" Veteran, I received a letter stating that my application was ACCEPTED.

    This application INCLUDED my intended school (Art Institute of Pittsburgh) and my intended course (Certificate program for Digital Photography). When I went to apply for admission after receiving the VRAP confirmation, I found out that my chosen school was NOT eligible because it offered 4 year degrees.

    Essentially, I have to find some podunk, non-degree offering (because they SUCK and do not deserve accreditation) school to satisfy some 80+ year old senator's demand that this program kill two birds with one stone by helping outdated community colleges, too.

    It's the fundamental stupidity and unintended consequences that make me most angry about this bullshit, photo opportunity, program. Because if I don't believe it is stupid, I'm forced to believe that these limitations were intentionally imposed to limit how much it would actually cost.

    They wouldn't do that, would they?

  4. Dear Veterans,

    I have been approved and in a vrap approved program which began in August 2012. I have never been paid and probably never will be. I am beginning to think its a scam. Its really weird I run into these people in public and they seem embarrassed to talk to me. I have wasted nine months following their formula which has left me upset and sick. Please get everything in writing. I have been lied to by many vrap school sponsors and councilors. Make friends with reliable organizations that have the capacity to help you directly. I have begun referring to the program as the VTRAP.
    Good Luck to all,

  5. I was approved for VRAP in March, 2013. However, I could not start college until May 14th, 2013. The VRAP program ends next March, so I had to quickly choose a program at a two year college. Many of the higher paying career programs, such as nursing, Radiation Technology, .etc. have waiting lists to enter their programs and/or start only in the fall semester. I chose the Electrical Engineering & Technology program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, KY. I had to pay BCTC $1200 upfront/half of summer tuition before I started classes. My first check from VRAP that I received the first week of June was for $800.00. I promptly used that to pay the $750.00 that I owed for second summer session tuition. I was shorted $700.00 in my second VRAP check. The VA paid me a full rate of tuition from May 14-June 11, three quarter rate tuition for a class that ran from May 20-June 22, and full time for a class that started June 27-until June 30th. After four phone calls to the VA, I was told that the problem was with my college's certifying official. In turn, my college's VRAP representative blames the VA. Assuring me that she did the paperwork correctly, and even emailing me the certification letter that she sent the VA. It's been a game of round Robin, and in the meantime, I'm $700 short and BCTC wants $564 paid installments the next four months to pay for fall tuition. I am severely unhappy and wouldn't wish the hassle of having to be in this program for anybody!

    1. Hi Mary...

      Looks like you're in this VRAP vortex of BS too! I'm from NKY & going to Gateway Comm & Tech College. They've been ultra kind in working with me.

      The VA, on the other hand, make this system difficult to understand and stay committed to, on our behalf. If you don't see the minefield at the onset, you'll surely walk into it later.

      By design, its set up for us to fail. It requires hand holding at every level, and following up on data, verification/s, and correctly processing. Miss a step, and you'll end up waiting on payment every I have, since classes started.

      By design, the system creates an environment for a financial vacuum to take place, can put it off with advance payments every semester, but you're only delaying it. I'll bet that's where most vets that do begin this journey, disconnect.

      See, back with the older GI Bill, as long as one is enrolled and embarking on a program, any breaks between one semester to another was paid...given it was less than 30 days. That eliminated any financial holes to back fill & one could budget for school monthly.

      But those benefits have evolved into what we've got today, and my VA rep at school said that's how the VA pays on ALL GI Bill education benefits.

      So if one does embark on this program, one better have a consistent source of income other than VRAP. If not, you will suffer. Unless you're going to "Rocky & Bullwinkle U"...where tuition & books are cheap! LOL!

      I've found it VERY challenging to find ANY work that'll mesh with school...and I understood that for VRAP, one HAD to go full time.

      So, umm...yeah, sounds like some hand holding & follow up with everyone involved is needed. Thank God I called to follow up on my confirmation I'd done over the weekend before last...because the automated system didn't take it, so days were lost. Maybe it'll show up this week, maybe not...I don't think anyone but us cares.

      Oh, and I think the schools are tired of us vets, and the VA. One of my profs today said that nearly every vet has issues with getting books & supplies for class.

      The system is designed to help Mitch McConnell get reelected for like the 16TH time. This system is media propaganda, and setup to bump vets off the bus before they even get on; the rest of us suckers bump ourselves off out of frustration.

      I think we should band together, with other disenchanted vets & figure out how to protest this treatment. One voice will promptly be ignored.

      Best wishes..


  6. Hello all...

    I am involved in this vortex as well, I call it the "VRAP slap"...its what it is. Anything that CAN go wrong, HAS gone wrong.

    With the lost information, slippery wording, endless wait times on the phone, paper check mailed instead of DD, and DD getting f'ed up otherwise...I understand. Every process requires hand holding over the phone...the sheer anxiety is overwhelming.

    Honestly, I feel more trapped than I did before VRAP. I think it perpetuates unemployment, drains whatever resources an unemployed vet may have to begin with & sets them up to fail. And, if that don't'll bebumped off the "bus" eventually, unless you can weather the financial "holes" this system has in place, with their prorated "VRAP slap" ppayment between semesters. That's where that tricky phrase "enrolled full time" pops up.

    I'm into the 4TH week of school, and STILL chasing a $625 prorated payment! No books, barely enough to live on, and a mucked up DD that was "supposed" to post today.

    I'm going to a brick & mortar school, full time...and struggling to find SOMETHING work-wise that'll help me weather these "tweener" months. That ain't happened yet.

    Oh, I could had requested an "advance" VRAP payment again, like I started out with...and suffered 2 months in the meantime. Had I known I'd have prorated now, I'd of thought twice about this whole VRAP thing.

    I feel I've been committed in embarking on this course, and with the intent to do well & with enhanced ability to pay taxes, the least I'd expect is a system that works how it says it works, run by people who know how it works, and designed to work for the people trying to make it work to begin with, US!

    I not have dreamed to complain at the start of this program, I was very grateful it'd been offered. But now, I feel its just holding me back, putting me further into debt, and I feel I was "duped" by the propaganda.

    Anybody know who complain to, at all?

    Good luck to you guys.

  7. Hi Brian,
    it is unfortunate that so many Veterans have received false hope from this VRAP Vortex of BS being issued by and commanded by the DOL. Let me tell you my situation so we can all expose these moron politicians that included such inferior legislation that was so poorly written.

    I only had about 5 courses to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing when I had Student loan Banks claiming i never sent the deferral for student loans off and ran out of money to finish college in 1991. I sent the deferrals off foolishly in regular mail and the Student loan certifying officials kept claiming they did not receive these required deferrals and put me into default. I found out many years later the schools were supposed to do this, not the students and that is the way today usually done, but at my particular private university they were pushing this upon the students and that was the case with me. They kept claiming I was sending the deferral and I kept claiming I did and eventually they kept putting me on hold longer and longer and finally put my school loans in default. At the time I talked to lawyers and they said I had a good case to fix it put had to give $5,000 to fix it which I did not have because i was unemployed. The defaults stopped all teh aid and the aid stopped, no Pell grants nothing. At $300 plus food and shelter with 15 credits to go is unreachable for most and I was no different. They put me into default and kept tacking on so many late fees the $28,000 in school loans expanded to over $100.000 over night. This reason I say this is background. So along comes the VRAP program I qualify for. It is supposed to help long term unemployed Veterans avoid homelessness, that is me, that is my family. i only needed 5 courses to finish and become a RN with a Bacelor Degree. But no, had to be two year college, The program was supposed to help me but did not help me. So then, with all my advanced medical knowledge with all the upper division medical coursework i already took in Nursing i though I could easily pass a LPN program which was qualified as the required jobs. But guess what? All the local colleges where I live have 1 to 2 year waiting periods to get in the LPN programs to start the college. I could not get in the program quick enough. What a crock of BS this VRAP was. So then I found a school with a Paramedic school near me. I was a medic MOS trained from the military so I thought I could go to Paramedic program, VRAP would pay and Paramedics can find jobs easily. Then I would have money as a Paramedic to finish my Nursing degree and somehow solve my Student Loan issues. Guess what? Paramedic school required me to have EMT license to receive entry even though I was above EMT training and had given shots and many things Nurses do that EMT's do not do.

  8. This is part two of my VRAP Vortex

    Guess what? The VRAP would pay for my EMT training but once I was licensed the program would end because you cannot get multiple lcenses in the program. Guess what? EMT's must volunteer for a year or two before getting hired on as full time employees. This is the expected career path of an EMT, to work for free the first one or two years, unless your Daddy is head of the FD of course that is different. I found out as soon as I became licensed as a EMT the program would count as helping me get licensed and end after taking 6 weeks of worthless EMT training and would not pay for me to go into the one year Paramedic program licensed by the state. So wanting to use the benifits locally what did it qualify for me? I could go get and become a licensed janitor through a local college in about 8 or 9 months which I couldn't understand why I had to go to school for that. I could do a similar thing as a Nursing assistant and get paid to wipe poop from butts which didn't sound attractive. So I took a web design photography course through this was challenging substandard education online that was way overpriced, 2/3rds of teh coursework was in an unedited format, so many misunderstandings between what the teachers were grading you on. Most of the material you learn by yourself and the school does not even teach you but they fail you. You have to do this very dfficult code. I found out half way through the year that they had a graduation of only about 43% which means almost 2/3rds were not graduating. I found most the teachers were in my opinion discriminatory to Veterans, purposely giving them poor grades even when they did not deserve it. I figure by my calculations less than 5% of the Veterans that went to this school actually graduated. Most that were taking this coursework were from big corporations that wanted to expose certain employees with web design code work where they would have another employee help the person sitting next to them cheat. This is how this horrible horrible college got even to the 43% dismal graduation rate they act like they are so proud of. So I am trying to find fellow Veterans that have been defrauded by like I have so we can combine our resources and sue this college for defrauding millions upon millions of veterans in this VRAP program and even before the VRAP started. I filed a complaint with the BBB in AZ and they are almost ignoring the issues because Sessions pays them their yearly fee. I withheld my last payment to because I felt they had not fulfllled their contract with me over the last year I went to school through this horrendous VRAP program and is claiming that I owe 2 payments and I only with held one payment. wish to find a lawyer and have the case certified as a federal case allowing us to have access to every veteran that went to this college and sue them as a group for these are a bunch of crooks. That is my VRAP story.anyone may Email me to give me their story at RobertLeeRE@aol.comBlog VRAP Complaint

  9. Hey guys!! heres an idea: why dont we sue the VA, Congress and file it as a CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT!!! As I always say, hit them were it hurts: in their POCKET BOOK!!!!

  10. Sent this to El Presidente Obama:

    Dear Mr president,

    Concerning the DEATH of the VRAP:

    I have NOT completed my schooling started under VRAP, why has the government left thousands of us veterans out to rot??? Im still in training. Im about to drop out because since Congress dont have the common sense to keep the VRAP going, Im going to have to drop out of school and to take care of my daughter who has cancer. Wow, and Im paying the government to do what???

    Also found this on a Army job page:

    As an active duty Soldier, youll be eligible for:
    Up to $4,500 a year in tuition assistance, while on active duty
    Up to $85,536 for college
    Up to $65,000 to pay back qualifying student loans
    Up to $40,000 enlistment bonus.

    $195K PLUS!!!!!

    And what did the PRE-9/11 vets get for school training??????? A lousy $3600!!!!!!! Wow!! No wonder the PRE-9/11 vets feel so spit on just like the Vietnam vets.....

  11. WOW...pretty "lively" here..... zzzzzzzz.......