Sunday – June 17, 2018

Retraining Program 'Breathes Life' Into Veterans' Careers

January 2013


(l to r) Students Robert Davenport and Tony Anguiano, Sr., meet with Maria Abrego,
MATC student services specialist, about the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

Last summer, U.S. Army veteran Robert Davenport, 53, was jobless and homeless. Thanks to the federal Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) and other support from the Veterans Administration, he is now a full-time student enrolled in MATC's air conditioning and refrigeration technology associate degree program and is living in his own apartment.

A self-described "jack of all trades," Davenport was doing electrical work and repairs when his last job ended suddenly. He lost his apartment and was forced to live in his truck temporarily until there was room to move into the VA Domiciliary for homeless veterans. After returning from serving as a field generator operator at the Herzog Base in Bavaria in the early 1980s, Davenport used his federal GI bill benefits to get his GED at DeVry University. He believed he had exhausted his VA educational benefits.

VRAP Helps Older, Unemployed Veterans
But a meeting with a counselor at the VA office in West Milwaukee changed all that. She told him about VRAP, which offers funding for 12 months of full-time training for high-demand careers at technical or community colleges. In addition to covering tuition, it also offers a stipend for living expenses. Veterans must be between the ages of 35 and 60 and be unemployed to qualify. The program is part of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

Davenport jumped at the chance to get additional job-related training. He hopes to earn an associate degree at MATC and go on to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering. He would like to run his own business specializing in air conditioning, heating, electrical and other contracting work. He envisions hiring others to work with him. "I love putting people to work," he said. "I love training them."

He is now enrolled in MATC liberal arts courses while he waits for openings in the technical courses. "I never thought in my life that I'd be studying psychology, sociology or economics," he said. "But everyone has been fantastic to me here. I can't speak highly enough of the faculty. They are great."

Robert Davenport

The VRAP funding and a small grant from the VA allowed him to afford the security deposit and first month's rent on his own apartment. "I'm in my own place again," Davenport said gratefully. "I'm eating my own food, sleeping in my own bed, lying on my memory foam pillow.

"VRAP pulled me out of a downward spiral and has put me back on track," Davenport said.

VRAP Empowers Former Police Officer
Tony Anguiano, Sr., 56, learned about VRAP at an opportune moment as well. Beginning in 1974, he spent 20 years in the military, including stints with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, and also was as a reservist for both branches of the service. He also served in the Milwaukee Police Department from 1982 to 1995, and later as a public safety officer for several colleges.

While in the Marines, Anguiano was trapped with a convoy in a minefield for 45 minutes during the Gulf War, an event that would haunt him for decades. As a result, Anguiano developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although he did not recognize it as such for years. "A lot of vets resist getting help with PTSD because of pride," he explained. "They think they should just 'suck it up.' There were things I didn't process. I became isolated and avoided people and relationships. I was depressed, withdrawn, hyper vigilant. I'd get really upset about small things."

New Career Focus Will Lead to Helping Others
Eventually, he turned to the VA for help with his PTSD. After spending months in therapy, he spoke with a VA counselor about future career plans and learned about VRAP. "I had thought about going back to school because I need to challenge and stretch my mind," Anguiano said. "I want to give back to the community and to minister to others because of what I went through."


Tony Anguiano, Sr.

With the aid of VRAP, he enrolled in MATC's human service associate degree program. He hopes to earn a bachelor's degree in social work after graduating from MATC and would like to work with veterans through the VA. "MATC has more than met my expectations," he said. "I can't praise the faculty enough for their passion and commitment. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I want to help people that are hurt and suffering."

"I've seen veterans who are down and out come into my office and when they
learn about this program, it's as if someone has breathed life back into them."
- Maria Abrego, MATC student services specialist

Maria Abrego, an MATC student services specialist who works with the veterans, is very excited about the benefits of the VRAP. Half the unemployed veterans in the U.S. are between 35 and 60, so Abrego believes this program is targeted to help veterans with serious needs. She said that 75 veterans entered the program at MATC in 2012, and all are still enrolled. The program helps many who have exhausted their other VA educational benefits and who have oftentimes been out of school for 20 years or more.

"We're seeing people we wouldn't have seen otherwise," Abrego said. "I've met with veterans who are down and out come into my office and when they learn about this program, it's as if someone has breathed life back into them."


For more information on the VRAP program, visit:

For more information on MATC's air conditioning and refrigeration technology associate degree program, see:

For more information on MATC's human service associate degree program, visit: