The Georgia veterans training center in Warner Robins now has a student dormitory.
An agreement with Robins Air Force Base will allow the center, which serves veterans from around the state, to house students at the base who are military members about to leave the service.
Robins officials will be at the Veterans Education Career Transition Resource center, or VECTR, on Wednesday to sign the agreement to allow those students to use a vacant base dorm at no cost.
Patricia Ross, the center director, said for legal reasons the dorm will only available to active duty military personnel in their last six months of service. Those who have already left service will not be eligible for the housing.
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The Department of Defense allows members of all branches in their last six months of service to take training for transitioning to civilian life provided there is no cost to the military member.
Because of a lack of housing the VECTR center has not met that requirement. With the agreement, it now does.
"We need housing," Ross said. "That has been the biggest thing we have needed since we opened our doors."
Currently students at the center are responsible for their own housing, either staying with someone else or getting a hotel room.
The dorm had previously been used by a Marine helicopter unit no longer at the base. The dorm will have 70 rooms available when the semester starts in August. Ross said that should be enough rooms because of the classes' low student-to-teacher ratio. Most of the classes have 20 students or less, she said.
The deal means active duty members from all branches could be staying at the base while taking VECTR training. Ross said the Army has been the program's biggest user.
She said 4,000 or more Army soldiers annually leave the service at Fort Stewart alone, so the agreement should give a big boost to enrollment at the center. Fort Stewart, near Augusta, has more than 19,000 soldiers.
Ross pointed out that the demand for transitioning training is up after the Department of Defense last year approved a new policy saying military members who were non-deployable for more than a year had to leave the service.
That means some members who have medical issues or other reasons that kept them from being deployed, and previously had been able to stay in the military stateside, now are forced out of the service even before they reach retirement eligibility.
VECTR currently offers training of 15 weeks or less in commercial truck driving, aircraft maintenance and welding. A heating and air conditioning course will begin with the fall semester. The state budget this year included $4 million for an expansion of the center, which opened in August, 2016, to allow more programs.
Although the agreement to be signed Wednesday would be only for housing active duty military members, Ross said efforts are under way to provide other housing for students who have already left the service. An apartment complex is planned on land near the center that will set aside some units as free housing for VECTR students.