By Congresswoman Julia Brownley

Originally published in the Ventura County Star

Far too many veterans in Ventura County — and across the country — are unemployed, and I believe we have a solemn obligation to do whatever we can to retrain them for the jobs of the future.

While we are recovering from the recent recession, we all know that many of the new jobs being created do not and will not look like many of the jobs lost. Retraining prepares our nation’s workforce for these structural changes, and it is especially important that we do whatever we can to help those who served our country.

In 2011, Congress created the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP. It’s a program that helps veterans who are no longer eligible for the GI Bill to get the training they need — up to 12 months’ worth — at community colleges and technical schools in occupations that have been identified as “high demand.”

While we have made progress recovering from the recession, we are not there yet and far too many veterans remain unemployed. As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide these veterans the help they need to land high-skilled jobs and be able to provide adequately for their families.

VRAP is a program that works. Officials from the Department of Labor testified before Congress that veterans are completing their programs and finding jobs. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that unemployment among eligible veterans has decreased since VRAP started. This is good news. However, without immediate congressional action, program is set to end.

Since its inception, VRAP has helped 76,000 veterans, including Jonathan Pascua, a first-generation Filipino-American from Oxnard who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1995 to 2013. As an active-duty Marine, Jonathan worked as a telecommunications operator in the Iraq War, supporting his fellow Marines. With the aid of VRAP, he is currently a full-time student, majoring in business management, scheduled to graduate in 2015.

If VRAP is allowed to expire Monday, many veterans across the nation, like Jonathan, might not be able to continue their education. We simply cannot let VRAP end. That is why I worked with my colleague Rep. Mark Takano; and together, we introduced the Help Hire Our Heroes Act (H.R. 4149) to extend this vital program.

It’s a bipartisan bill supported not only by Democrats and Republicans, but also the American Legion, the VFW, the Retired Enlisted Association and the Association of the Navy.

In fact, just a few days ago, I, along with Rep. Takano, held a news conference with Rep. Mike Michaud, the ranking member on Veterans Affairs Committee, and Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, to raise awareness about the expiration of VRAP and the need to extend it.

As a member of Congress representing Ventura County, Naval Base Ventura County and the tens of thousands of veterans who call Ventura County home, I have been so proud to be able to serve as ranking member on the Veterans Affairs subcommittee on health; to serve with my colleagues from both parties who are dedicated to doing whatever possible to better the lives of our veterans and to offer this very important piece of legislation.

It needs to pass. My colleagues in Congress and the veterans groups who work so hard every day on behalf of our nation’s veterans are counting on the American people to voice their support.

Because our veterans — like Jonathan — were there for us, it is our duty to be there for them.

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