(TNS) — When David Molina retired from the U.S. Army in 2013, he wanted to use federal education benefits offered through the GI Bill to attend a software-coding school.
No luck. Though the GI Bill applies to public universities and some for-profit colleges, he couldn't get approval to use funds for intensive coding schools, often called boot camps.
Molina, a Portland resident, started a petition to get different coding schools across the region approved for the GI Bill, which, in many cases, pays the full tuition along with a monthly stipend to the vet.
It quickly became clear that pursuit "would be sort of a long drag," Molina said.
But one local school has finished the process. On Monday, Code Fellows, a coding boot camp based in Seattle, became the first such program in Washington to gain approval.
Veterans can now use GI Bill benefits to pay for all four levels of training courses at Code Fellows. Tuition, which normally costs about $20,000, will be paid for under the bill. The benefits may also include a living stipend.
"This is a big deal for Seattle, an area that has a huge military presence," Molina said. "It's a big deal for transitioning military (members) and it's going to have a huge impact."
The White House has been urging companies to join a campaign that supports hiring veterans in business.
Forty companies pledged this year to hire more than 110,000 veterans and spouses of active-duty personnel as part of a nationwide initiative called Joining Forces. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos vowed in May to hire 25,000 veterans and spouses over the next five years.
Tech jobs can be particularly valuable to veterans, Molina said. Not only are they available in abundance, but they pay well.
Software engineers in Seattle make a median salary of $113,242, according to a study from employer-review website Glassdoor.
Even if a starting salary isn't quite that high, Molina believes the technical training can significantly help unemployed and underemployed veterans.
He ended up launching a nonprofit called Operation Code that connects veterans with technology mentors and encourages former military members to study coding skills.
Software engineers are increasingly in demand at growing tech companies, and still more jobs are available at companies across all industries as they adopt greater uses of technology.
Tech companies want to hire veterans, Code Fellows CEO Dave Parker said, especially because the men and women often come into jobs with a great work ethic and leadership skills. But they also need the technical chops.
"A lot of veterans want to get into the workforce as fast as they can," Parker said. "They don't necessarily want to take four years."
So-called coding boot camps offer accelerated programs that teach specific coding languages, as well as skills that range across software technology.
The programs range from a couple weeks up to a year. Many programs help students find internships or jobs after graduation.
The schools have grown in popularity as an alternative to traditional university programs -- and some colleges are implementing their own courses.
Some companies prefer, or even require, candidates to have an undergraduate degree in computer science. But Molina said he has encountered a lot of companies seeking specific skills learned in coding boot camps.
Code Fellows is one of only a handful of coding schools nationwide approved for students under the GI Bill.
Co-working space and coding school Galvanize accepts the funding at its Golden Triangle campus in Denver, as do Skill Distillery and RefactorU in Denver, according to Operation Code. Sabio in Los Angeles is also eligible.
The list of approved coding schools is expanding. Molina expects a couple more schools to finish the approval process soon. Bellevue-based Coding Dojo is applying to be able to accept GI Bill payments.
In the meantime, many schools offer scholarships to veterans and other groups underrepresented in tech. Coding Dojo offers a $1,500 scholarship to current and former military members, and Code Fellows reports it has given more than $500,000 in scholarships to veterans, women and minority students in the past year.
It has been working on the GI Bill approval process for years but couldn't actually apply until January.
"You have to be a licensed school approved by the state for two years before you can even apply," CEO Parker said. That means Code Fellow's Portland location is not eligible for another year.
A new GI Bill, known as the post 9/11 GI Bill, was passed by Congress in 2008 to pay 36 months of tuition at public schools and some tuition reimbursement at private schools.
Community colleges in the state have seen the number of veterans taking advantage of the bill grow significantly.
The GI Bill also faces its challenges, especially when it comes to for-profit colleges. The institutions have made up a significant chunk of GI Bill payouts, but a 2014 Senate report pointed to concerns about the colleges, a view that has been reinforced by the Obama administration.
Code Fellows courses start accepting GI Bill payment immediately.
©2016 The Seattle Times, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.