Two West Point classmates who made it to Congress – one Republican and one Democrat – are teaming up on a bill aimed at expanding opportunities for veterans to pursue non-college educational opportunities with their GI Bill benefits.
Reps. John James, R-Mich., and Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., are leading the legislation, which would target pre-apprenticeship programs that aren't currently covered for those leaving the service. Those programs can help veterans get skills they need for formal apprenticeships that can lead to good-paying jobs.
"What this bill does is, it helps on the very ground level to help with housing, to help with tuition, to make it more affordable for veterans to have a smooth dovetail into apprenticeship programs," James said in an interview with Fox News.
"This expands the options for vets who may say, I don't need to go to college," Ryan added. "This lets them use the benefits they've earned to do that."
Ryan and James – who graduated together from the United States Military Academy at West Point – are both new members in their first full year in Congress. James, a two-time GOP Senate nominee in Michigan, won his nail-biter House race in 2022 and was sworn in Jan. 3. Ryan won a special election last year after former Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., to join the Hochul administration as lieutenant governor. Ryan entered office in September.
The two members say their bill, titled the "Veterans' Entry to Apprenticeship Act," could be key to help veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life.
"You're leaving a structured world where you were, you knew your job and you were taken care of. You had your brothers and sisters in arms, and now you're kind of on your own," Ryan said.
"This is just one hand, one rope, one ladder to help one of our brothers and sisters who may have fallen to the cracks. To get them back up and at least given another option to be able to provide for themselves again, not just profession, but purpose," James said.
It's not clear when or if the House may be able to take up the legislation – especially with the House floor currently frozen as several conservatives protest how GOP leadership handled the debt limit vote. But Ryan and James said they're confident that helping those who defended the U.S. is one of a few remaining bastions of bipartisanship.
The bill also comes at a time when many employers are having difficulty finding skilled labor for many of the kinds of positions that apprenticeship programs feed into. Ryan said the bill could help some employers at the same time it assists servicemembers.
"We've got we know some major shortages across our economy and in folks that need jobs. Small business owners across my district, New York's 18th District are desperate for folks. We know veterans know how to accomplish a mission, be part of a team and build a great culture and organization," he said. "The other thing I love about this is this doesn't take you years to do this, doesn't take two or four years. These are programs, these pre-apprenticeship programs that are fast. They get you right to work."