Enrollment began this month in the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, as part of 2011’s VOW to Hire Heroes Act.
A recent enrollment drive by the Augusta Warrior Project has already enlisted 52, including Navy veteran Mike Ashton.
Ashton is a typical candidate for VRAP, which targets veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 who fall outside the parameters of other federal assistance programs. He recently enrolled in the VA system after years of avoiding anything to do with the military because of a service-related trauma as a teenager. Now sober, adequately housed and armed with a renewed optimism, Ashton is ready to work again.
“The past is the past,” Ashton said. “I want to restart my life again at 51, but I know that I do need some help.”
The VRAP program will offer that assistance by paying $1,473 a month for a year toward training for what the U.S. Department of Labor calls “high demand occupations.” These jobs include computer specialists, registered nurses and paralegals. The DOL will also offer assistance in finding work after training.
Veterans advocate Katherine Hyer with the Augusta Warrior Project calls it a “golden ticket.”
“It gives you your choice of jobs,” Hyer said. If you weren’t satisfied with your military occupation or career after retiring, “it’s a chance to do something different.”
Ashton plans to enroll in classes to enhance his technical and manufacturing abilities. He’s currently a candidate for a position at Bridgestone but can keep his VRAP benefits if he’s hired after his enrollment.
Ashton’s new direction in life comes after years of isolation and self-medication to bury the traumatic event that happened to him when he was 17, right after he joined the Navy out of high school. He didn’t want to discuss the private details of what happened, but it was something that created trust issues and personal pain for years.
A GED and some college education allowed him to hold odd jobs, but the deaths of his mother and a close friend stymied much of the progress he made with his personal issues. He found himself on the streets, in and out of jail, addicted to drugs and alcohol. There was no rock bottom moment that drew him out of his addictions, just a recognition that he could do better for himself and a renewed faith in God, Ashton said.
While he still has some demons to conquer, Ashton now recognizes that he’s not the only one with these issues and that help is available.
“I made a promise to myself that I would not fail at trying,” Ashton said. “You’ve got to take initiative.”