YOUNGSTOWN - Pedro Colon Jr.'s participation in a federal program that helps unemployed veterans train for high-demand jobs, he said, ''is a life changing thing for me.''
''It's going to help me save my home, help me find gainful employment in just a short year,'' said Colon, 52. ''I intend to do whatever it takes to graduate.''
Colon, of Youngstown, one of the first local veterans to be approved for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), is enrolled in the medical assistant program at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center for September.
He, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and executive director of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission, Barry Landgraver, were at the Oakhill Renaissance Center Monday to highlight the program and encourage eligible veterans in the Mahoning Valley to apply.
''Service members who risk their lives protecting our nation shouldn't have to wonder whether or not they'll be able to find a job when they leave the service. Unfortunately, many do - and that's not right,'' said Brown, a Democrat, in a news release.
The program will help veterans train for jobs that are in high demand, from health care to protective service to production.
It will be limited to 45,000 participants from July through September and to 54,000 participants from October through March 2014. Already, about 27,000 veterans nationwide have applied, according to Brown.
Participants may receive up to 12 months of assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty Program, which is $1,473 a month.
That money, Colon said, will be use to pay tuition and ''survive.'' At about eight months into the program, Colon said he will be placed in a job with the goal of sticking, and those hours will also count toward program requirements.
To qualify, veterans must be at least 35 but no more than 60 years old, unemployed and have an other than dishonorable discharge. In addition, the veteran must not be eligible for any other Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefit program, in receipt of VA compensation due to unemployability and enrolled in a federal or state job training program.
Participants must be enrolled in a Veterans Affairs-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school that leads to an associate degree, non-college degree or a certificate in a high-demand occupation.