Get what you want from your Voc Rehab Counselor

The right recipe. When I cook, it’s an experiment. On many occasions I like to just take things that I have at hand, throw them all into the pot and see what comes out. Sometimes I hit a home run and sometimes the dogs won’t eat it. It is a lot of fun to create this way. Yet, if I don’t’ take the time to actually measure and write down what I’m doing, there is one thing that I can count on; I will never be able to recreate the exact same dish again. Creating just the right fish stew requires the right mixture of seasonings and ingredients following a period of taste testing and experimentation. When complete, the recipe must be written in order to recreate the concoction.

When it comes to disabled veterans needing retraining, the same holds true. Here, the application of assessments, the formula of ingredients, should be studied. In so doing, a myriad of questions come to mind. Three of them are:

  1. For each Veteran, what service is necessary to find gainful employment?
  2. Should every Voc Rehab Counselor be allowed to experiment with the stew?
  3. How important is rapport between the VA Counselor and the Veteran?

For the purpose of this article, VR& E was consulted to provide insight into the program and intake process. There is one underlying question. Is the VR&E intake based on subjective conclusions or objective data? In response, the VR&E counselor told us the process is largely “subject to interpretation of each vocational rehabilitation counselor…” Further, no one criteria is “weighted” as more important than another by the vocational rehabilitation counselor or clinical psychologist.

Up until 2008, the Vocational Rehabilitation had never conducted an in-depth analysis into why some disabled veterans succeed and why others do not. This is over 70 years after the VA first started providing veterans vocational rehabilitation assistance. Without this data, how can appropriate criteria be established to help disabled veterans? The answer is simple – it cannot.

Now what? There is one key to winning at Vocational Rehabilitation when the process is broken – differentiation. Knowing the system is broken is the first step. I always advise veterans to adopt the attitude that it doesn’t matter who broke it, you’re here to put it back together, as it relates to your case. Nothing else matters, not politics, not your dog, not your ex-wife. In fact, the more you spin these types of issues in front of the counselor, the less likely you are to get your benefits. Since the system is largely subjective, the counselor’s perception of you is the primary deciding factor in his decisions. Keep this in the back of your mind at all times.

Everyone has an annoying uncle (or aunt). Ever notice that when they stroll into the party, the mood is immediately different. I’d say the most irritating personality type for me is a pessimist. Everything is wrong with the world, even you. Regardless of the conversation, they seem to always pick some off the cuff detail to throw a curveball that derails any topic and divert attention back to their own needs. Don’t be that guy. Put on your politician hat. Forever be the optimistic one, even if you are the annoying uncle in reality.

Your key – Differentiation. Win the mind of your counselor by being different. A few months ago I received a call from an attorney and military veteran based in New York. His goal was to impart some knowledge he had gleaned over his career in working with Workers Compensation claims. His advice to veterans – differentiation. Be forever different from everyone else in the room when it comes to certain issues.

The advice I received from a friend prior to entering the US Air Force was this: keep your head down in basic training. Do not try to show off. And that’s what I did. Come the final week of basic, my TI had no idea who I was. His comment to me at that moment, “You’re either a genius or an idiot.” That is not what my advice is to you. With Vocational Rehabilitation, the counselors have come to expect that disabled veterans will go away if ignored long enough. So, do not go away. There, that’s the first part. Be persistent, with your head up.

Your second step will be to document everything. Do this in a way that is assertive and not pushy. Sending harsh emails or reminding the counselor that you are documenting things can be seen as threatening. Print out all correspondence and keep it in a 2-hole classification folder, like attorneys use. When needing vital decisions or information from the VA, do not email it. Counselors have over 100 cases going at any time. They will likely not read the email. Instead, send all correspondence that is important via certified mail with return receipt. Keep a copy of everything in your folder, including the return receipt. This will keep you in the “special” file and out of the circular file.

Most important. The last step is attitude. “I need your help.” Remember, unlike the military, where everyone must do certain things or they get a reprimand, in the civilian world you must convince people they should want to help you, even if it’s their job to help. This is especially the case when working with a large governmental bureaucracy. They have no direct customer service incentive other than saving money (ie., if you go away, they save money).

To recap, you now have the key to getting what you need done with your vocational rehabilitation counselor. Keep in mind, they cannot do things that are not supported by regulations, but they can do almost anything within the grey area once you convince them of your need. Try to get them to feel like they are teaming with you in your success. Be that one case that makes their day when you come in, because you are a successful person. This will open many more doors for you beyond the realm of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, too. Best of luck.

A special thanks goes out to Vietnam era veteran Ray Ferns, CEO of Restorative Correctional Services, for his help with this article and for his interest in lending a hand to other veterans in need and to the system helping them.

Jeffrey HIll
I find this information in this article very helpful, I only wish I had known it sooner. I guess I would be considered one of the successful cases, as I have just completed my Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with Computer Information Systems minor through a private college. The sad part is my wife is also a disabled veteran and she began her services under the same counselor, and yet she could be considered one of the unsuccessful cases. This… Read more »
William R. Campbell Jr.
William R. Campbell Jr.

I have just relocated to South Carolina and I am a vet with a 30% disablity. I need some help getting in contact with a Counselor for Vocational Rehabitation.

Manny Perozo

Thank you very much. This advice is priceless, so simple yet spot on.

Mike Jarrett
Hey Ben, I can use a bit of advice. I am a service-connected vet rated at 50%. I actually applied for VR&E about 4 years ago and had to put my plans on hold while my health/medical issues kept me from continuing at that time. So, I ended up becoming totally disabled with the Social Security Administration and since haven’t been able to work let alone be retrained for a new career field. My question for you is this; Since… Read more »
KS State Voc rehab Counselor
KS State Voc rehab Counselor
I am a vet who went through the VA chapter 31 program, got my degree, ended up a voc rehab counselor for a state VR program. My advice to people who do not qualify for or are unable to get served by the VA program is to apply through your state agency. You can receive services from both state and federal agencies, as long as you do not repeat any specific services. For instance, I got my education through the… Read more »
Dean Akin - Oregon

KS State – Interesting comments, I was under the impression the [VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment] and/or Ch31 program was a Fed program that is manage and run at the state level. So where is the division?

Dean Akin - Oregon

Thanks Ben, excellent info and thanks for the OVRS link. It is another resource I was not aware of.

Dean Akin - Oregon

Hmm, after reading through the OVRS link, it appears they only assist individuals in retaining or getting job, but not starting your own business. I will be calling them to confirm, but it appears to be truely disappointing already.

Barbara B.
Ben, I could use your advice. To make a long story short, I was injured in service and told my injuries were pre-existing and I would be denied a VA disability rating. 20 years later, I met a wonderful VA Service Rep who said that was untrue, submitted my case and now I am 20% disabled. I went to Voc Rehab and asked for educational benefits. I was denied by the counselor who said I already had a degree and… Read more »
Mick Smith
Barbara, my advice is to apply for CH31 (VR) if you haven’t already. Get the denial officially – then appeal the denial. What you will need to demonstrate is that you are unable to obtain or maintain (keep) employment in the field for which you are trained. You will do this during the first meeting, so keep track of what you said and the replies. But even more important is what is the “official” reasoning – what is on the… Read more »
dante gonzalez
I would like to get hep in how to write a letter to my va counselor. I got a bachelor degree in International business and I am requesting for an upgrade to a master degree. My counselor asked me to write her a letter why she would approve me for the program. Also, I have to choose a program and I think it has to be related to my bachelor degree. The letter have to contain my program selection job… Read more »
Brian Carlson
I need help…. I am a disablid veteran at (60%) currently. I am unemployeed and have been for 8 months now. I am married with two kids and would like to go back to school and get a degree in something that would help me in gaining meaningful employeement such as computer security. I was told several things by my voc rehab 31 counselor when I applied. One — because I have a 4 year degree. I would not QUALIFY.… Read more »
Rodney L. Ambrose
I have a 100% shaedular diability, I was denied in Jan, 2007 because of my ptsd, I never appealed the dicision because I was to depressed as I’ve been battling with the VA. for forty years. But I went to Stand Down in San Diego in 2011 and was told by a aid to Congress woman Susan Davis to reapply. So I did and the counselor said she would fast track my approval. But when it got to the same… Read more »
Ben, I’m putting together my application for VocRehab to attend a certification program to teach workshops with an accredited educational institute. With my disability rating at 80% and 100%IU, my main focus is to be clear about my plan to regain independence with a realistic educational goal (4-5 weeks of training per year for 3-4 years) and working part-time rather than full-time. Will I have to be reevaluated for my IU rating before applying? And will I risk losing my… Read more »
Don Fulton
SUBJECT: REQUEST RE-READ OF MY CONTRACT AND EXCEPTION TO POLICY TO CONTINUE MY EDUCATION BENEFITS. Dear Mr. Morris I am currently enrolled in the VOC Rehab program in OKC, OK. Mrs. Janet is my current counselor. I was enrolled into this program by Mr. Billy in Dec 2008, originally for Criminal Justice program at Southern Nazarene University. I feel I was coerced into this VR&E program for reasons other than my welfare as a veteran. When I was contacted by… Read more »
Chad Hansen

Very useful information, thank you!

Recently got approved for chapter 31 employment through long term services. Working on Bachelors degree for Biological Technician then job placement! So far so good.

Chris Williams
I was recently approved for Chapter 31 and working on my Training Plan as we speak. My next meeting with the VR Counselor is a week away and before I submit it, I wanted to get your two cents worth on an idea. Considering that I; A) live in Indiana where public transportation is virtually non-existent, and B) am unable to drive, A relocation would be a good idea. My thoughts are that my best success for completing the program… Read more »
Danny Many Benifits
Live in the deep south and am a die hard vet, and lets say I know a thing or two about ch 31. TO CLARIFY ENTRY LEVEL EMPLOYMENT. Entry level employment is not the aim of the program. All counselors spin this bs to their veterans because it is an easy way for them to do less work. There is a circular letter from the top that addresses this issue, and clarifies along the following lines- “a miss conception has… Read more »

I am a disabled-vet with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice (2009). I was assigned to my Voc Rehab Counselor 7 mos. ago. He RARELY responsds to my emails & NEVER returns my voice mail. I just want a little feedback and job placement help/advice- I don’t what to do with my dead-end $8/hr job.

David A Castaneda
You know? I know that I can be a bit of a devils advocate player but I really do believe the Va is trying to help us. I also believe that this site is an absolute necessity. In the short while I have been reading on this site I have learned very much. I hate to think the VA does not have our welfare in mind when they make their decisions but I am getting to think that this is… Read more »


I was enrolled in Vocational Rehab. I received my Bachelor degree in Management. However I have been unable to find work in this field. In September I enrolled in another university to complete my Master’s degree in education in one year. I am in my third class. My counselor told me I had 7 months left on Vocational Rehab and it would not be a problem to get an extension/approval for the other 5 months. My counselor has now informed… Read more »
James Greenan
Hello Mr. Krause, I have a 20% rating from the VA and applied for Vocational Rehab. I have my meeting with the VA counselor on the 27th of this month. I have a bachelor’s degree (Poli Sci) with a terrible GPA. I wanted to get back into the military after college but they were not taking my MOS. I tried for quite a while, but have now aged out. I have been working in fast food, a little construction since… Read more »
Kathie Hall
Trying to get reinstated into Voc rehab. Been denied 4 times and this last time was very disheartening. Counselor was very unprofessional and showed no encouragement at all. I had to make her email my denial letter that she claimed she mailed out — still waiting on via mail. She even blocked my phone number!!!. Can they do that?? After I cool off and de-stress I will pursue my appeal or even contact my state representative about how I was… Read more »