RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Thousands of veterans lost their jobs because of COVID-19 shutdowns and other pandemic challenges. Now the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay to re-train them for a new career.

The American Rescue Plan passed by Congress puts $17 billion towards supporting veterans in response to the pandemic. Part of that is funding the veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program. The program sends veterans back to school to train for high-demand jobs. Occupations range from engineers to carpenters to computer programmers.

The VA’s Acting Under Secretary for Benefits, Tom Murphy says the program even covers housing costs while veterans study and learn new skills. 

“Here’s what comes with that. We pay all the expenses,” Murphy said. “We pay 12 months, up to 12 months tuitions, fees and monthly housing allowance, so stipend, so that the veteran can live while they are going to school.”

The billions in funding will also help clear a backlog of disability and compensation claims piled up during the pandemic. The VA admits there are close to 200,000 outstanding claims. 

8News has learned some of those claims are over 125 days old. Murphy says relief is on the way. Money has been set aside to cover additional staffing, overtime and resources to cut through the claims.

Murphy blames the buildup on delays in accessing records and delays in veterans getting required medical exams because vets didn’t feel safe coming in during the early stages of the pandemic.

However, the Acting Under Secretary says now there’s mass vaccination, social distancing and appointments are spaced to avoid overlapping patients. He encourages veterans to come back in.

“I have employees today waiting for veterans to come in and get your examinations. Within a matter of days after their examinations is completed, they’re going to get a rating decision,” he said.

For more information about the Rapid Retraining Assistance Program or to apply click here. We’re told applications are being processed in a matter of days.