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SUNY Canton seeks veterans for benefit program

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CANTON — With time running out on a program funding one year of school for unemployed veterans, plenty of space remains.

That is why SUNY Canton Military and Veteran Student Service Coordinator Patrick S. Massaro is working to funnel veterans into the federal Veterans Retraining Assistance Program before the spring semester starts.

“We’re trying to make sure all veterans have knowledge of the program,” he said. “The program is one of those whether you are working with the Department of Labor or speaking with a VA official, not too many people know about it.”

The program, part of the VOW To Hire Heroes Act of 2011, began this July and extends to March 31, 2014. It pays for up to 12 months of financial assistance by making $1,564 monthly payments available to degree-seeking veterans enrolled in a Veterans Administration approved full-time program.

A portion of the funds are dedicated to technical education, said Mr. Massaro, and SUNY Canton is the only school in the region to fit within the program’s regulations.

“Students who are interested in taking advantage of the program should apply as soon as possible,” he said. “This upcoming year will be their last chance to use the VRAP.”

The program was never intended to be long-lasting, but instead to serve as a catch-all for unemployed veterans as their ranks swell due to economic downturns and the draw down of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were 45,000 slots available in the program this summer, with an additional 54,000 openings created in October.

“They have accepted 62,000 participants,” said Mr. Massaro. “That means currently there are over 36,000 spots open to interested students.”

About a dozen students at SUNY Canton are taking advantage of the program, but Mr. Massaro hopes to boost that number.

“I believe in the push method of information,” he said. “I push it out to everybody I possibly can. I send it to the county and the state, I send it to veterans groups, I send it to the education center at Fort Drum. It is basically a large veterans’ network — you get the information out there and hope it gets passed along.”

To qualify for the program, veterans must be between 35 and 60 years old, unemployed, ineligible for any other VA educational benefit and not enrolled in any other federal or state job training program. They also must have been honorably discharged.

Mr. Massaro was hired earlier this year as a shared military and veterans affairs coordinator for SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam. SUNY Canton was recently named among the top military-friendly colleges and universities by Military Advanced Education magazine.

“I think the creation of my position itself speaks volumes to both institutions’ desire to help out the military and become military friendly institutions,” he said. “We are currently instituting all the programs to show we are military friendly, and to thank people for their military service.”

For more information, contact Mr. Massaro at (315) 386-7073, or email massarop@canton.edu.

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