Using the GI Bill or an Apprenticeship Program to Pursue a Commercial Driving Career

Military Transition

US Army photo

As a military member, moving into the next chapter of your life as a civilian can be scary. But, you’ve decided to get out and try something different … you just don’t know what. The dilemma you face is:

  • you are unsure what you want to do
  • you have no desire to spend two to four years in college first
  • but you want a rewarding career that pays well

If this sounds like you, why not consider driving a long-haul over-the-road semi-truck. You can use your GI Bill to get trained and be behind the wheel in 8 weeks or less. And while the field is dominated by males, 5.8  percent of drivers today are female … and their numbers are growing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for truck drivers will grow by 5% between 2014 and 2024. During this decade, up to 98,800 openings are projected either through new hires (to keep up with the growing demand of consumers and businesses) or to backfill openings created by an aging force that will retire.

Getting a job driving a truck with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 26,000 pounds or more does require you to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical and get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Up to recently, one of the best ways to qualify yourself was by attending a professional truck driving school. And it is still the best way for veterans having no heavy vehicle driving experience. But there is also a new way where you can earn as you learn to drive – an apprenticeship program.

If going the school route, you can be trained to drive and ready to take the CDL test by the end of the course. Many schools have job placement services to connect you with companies hiring new drivers after graduation.

Ensure the professional truck driving school you are considering is VA-approved so you can use your GI Bill to attend. If approved for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, not only will the VA pay your tuition, but they will also pay you a monthly housing allowance (MHA) averaging $1,300 per month nationwide and up to $83 per month for books and supplies while in training. Actual housing allowance amounts are based on the zip code of the school.

If using the Montgomery GI Bill, it would pay you up to $1,857 per month and you pay your own training, books and supplies, and living expenses. Under either GI Bill, VA will reimburse you up to $50 to help offset the cost of the CDL test.

Veterans Apprenticeship Program

Recently some trucking companies have been approved by the VA to enroll students into an apprenticeship program. Under it, students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill can get up to 100% of their monthly housing allowance for the first six months of training.

Each successive six-month period, during the two-year apprenticeship program, the MHA drops by 20% finally stabilizing at 40% of the MHA at the end of two years.

While getting your MHA, you will also draw a salary from the host trucking company. As your MHA drops, your salary increases leaving you with a net monthly salary of about the same amount.

One trucking company with a newly VA-approved apprenticeship program – U.S. Express – reports their students earning up to $82,000 during the first year in the program. Other trucking companies with recently approved programs include CRST (a complement to their existing Heroes on the Highway program) and a 15-month program at USA Truck.

Commercial truck driving is a great way to see the country, while providing a service critical to businesses. If undecided about your post-military job or education options, consider a career in truck driving.

Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.