Senate Passes CDL Reform for Veterans

A commercial driver’s license is the passport to a professional truck driving career. Without one, drivers are limited to box trucks or delivery vans. Any commercial vehicle exceeding 26,000 pounds, like a Class 8 semi, requires operators to have a valid CDL.

However, people in all walks of life often come across barriers and accessibility challenges when trying to obtain a license. With an unsatiable demand for truck drivers in the U.S., it has become in the best interest of legislators to make the intimidating CDL process more manageable for prospects.

Senate passes CDL-friendly bill for veterans

On November 2, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Veteran Improvement Commercial Driver License Act of 2023, legislation designed to make CDLs easier to obtain for military veterans.  

Endorsed by prominent trucking groups American Trucking Associations and Commercial Vehicle Training Association, the legislation removes a two-year waiting period currently required for certain CDL schools that veterans may wish to attend and pay tuition by using their GI Bill benefits.

In other words, under current law, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is barred from approving CDL courses offered at branches of a school if the branch has been operating for less than two years.

The legislation will remove that barrier by allowing the VA to approve CDL programs at new branches, pending if they are officially licensed by the state and use previously approved curriculum.

In theory, this change will grant veterans more options of available programs to choose from, while also ensuring their benefits will still apply.

Another demographic targeted by CDL reform are college and trade students. Last month, Iowa awarded a multi-million dollar grant to several community colleges across the state. The funding enables the schools to expand classroom sizes and upgrade their training facilities. Read more here!

House companion legislation draws criticism

However, despite full approval from the Senate, companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives has received criticism.

At a House veteran affairs subcommittee hearing, held the same day the Senate passed the bill, Jospeh Westcott with the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA) warned that the legislation (identical to the Senate version) will actually strip protections for veterans.

He argued that the two-year waiting period is intended to prevent veterans from enrolling in unvetted and low-standard CDL programs. It serves as a barrier which gives newer branches of schools enough time to prove a stable and quality curriculum.

Westcott’s worst fear: “A trucking driving school could request immediate approval of a ‘branch’ campus anywhere in the nation, and the state approval agency of jurisdiction would have no records to determine the approvability of the program.”

Such records would include CDL pass rates, graduation rates, and job placement.

In response, House subcommittee members assured Westcott that they’d work with the NASAA on the legislation, however they also noted pushback from state approval agencies can undermine the bill’s passage.

Truck driving career can serve as a transition for veterans

Veterans have challenges when it comes to establishing a post-military career in civilian life. While many of them possess valuable skills and experience from their time serving, very few have the certifications or degrees to get a foot in the door.

With seemingly incompatible resumes, it’s unfortunately uncommon for men and women who have served to be left in a job hunt purgatory.

However, a career as a professional truck driver can be an attractive choice for veterans. Many of them have military backgrounds of operating heavy-duty vehicles or equipment, like DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan.

That experience can often bridge the skill gap between a military position and the civilian job as a truck driver.

Aside from the above legislation, there exists several federal resources and programs available for veterans which can make this career path more navigable. In some cases, qualified veterans can even waive standard tests, opting to exchange their military licenses for a CDL.

Final Thoughts

Veteran’s Day is this Saturday. The November 11 holiday marks a date of remembrance, honoring military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

From all of us at Commerce Express Inc., we extend a thank you to all former and active military members who are serving or have served.

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