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A GI Bill for the 21st century

In this Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012, file photo,

In this Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012, file photo, soldiers salute the U.S. flag during the Pledge of Allegiance at a welcome home ceremony for soldiers returning from a deployment in Afghanistan, at Fort. Carson, Colo. For veterans, the GI Bill can be the ticket to a debt-free college education. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File) Credit: AP / Brennan Linsley

App developer, robotics technician, digital animator and advanced manufacturer — what do all of these careers have in common? They didn’t exist 73 years ago when the GI Bill was signed into law. When our fighting forces shipped out to the Pacific and to the battlefields of Europe, near a fourth of Americans were farmers. Today, that number is around 0.01 percent.

Our economy has undergone radical transformations. With the rise of everything from driverless cars to robotics to artificial intelligence, more changes are to come. It makes you wonder what jobs will exist in 73 years that we don’t have or can’t imagine today. In fact, research shows that 65 percent of children in elementary school will hold jobs that haven’t yet been created.

We should not view these inevitable changes with the fear of so many of the forecasters in the media, but rather take action to use these changes to our advantage. When our military came home from World War II, they became the most economically successful generation in history in large part because they received education with their GI Bill benefits. This next generation of veterans has the potential recreate that success if we reform the GI Bill to fit our changing times.

After all, veterans have the raw potential for success. They have the work ethic, intelligence, ability to thrive under pressure, and sense of duty necessary for any job. What they need when they come home is the type of education that will help them get and master tomorrow’s careers.

The House’s reforms to the GI Bill will set our veterans up for success in two main ways: we give veterans the opportunity to use their education benefits throughout their lives instead of within 15 years of their service, and we will allow veterans to use their benefits for nontraditional education models so they can get needed jobs quickly.

Extending education benefits beyond 15 years is a practical necessity. When new industries emerge and we rely on American workers to fill those jobs, it shouldn’t matter if a veteran is five, 15 or 30 years out of the service. If you haven’t used your benefits yet, you should be able to get an education at any point in your life. After all, the typical worker will change careers throughout his or her life. When old industries pass and new industries emerge, or when a better job is just a few technical courses away, all veterans should have access to education to get those jobs.

For the same reasons, we shouldn’t restrict what type of education our veterans can receive. Increasingly, a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree doesn’t always prepare students for the jobs in need. By 2024, the tech industry alone is expected to add almost 500,000 jobs, and many tech employers are looking for candidates who have a particular skill set that students don’t learn in traditional settings.

Consequently, industry employers have turned to non-traditional technology programs that offer nano degrees and coding experience to find candidates with the skills they need.

Yet currently, veterans are unable to apply their GI education benefits to these courses. That’s why within this GI Bill we have a piece of legislation called the VET TEC Act that creates a pilot program for veterans to enroll in non-traditional technology courses and programs that are geared to getting a job after completion. This provision also provides the VA the necessary flexibility to approve these education programs, while also guarding against abuses so our veterans aren’t taken advantage of.

Our country faces a future of many great changes and potential rewards if we make the right decisions. We know our greatest asset is our people, and our veterans are the best of the best. With benefits when they need it for education they can use immediately, our veterans will move from the world’s greatest fighting force to the world’s greatest workforce.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the House majority leader, and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., is the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.