#1 Unofficial Guide – VA Vocational Rehabilitation

Cliff Notes from the Voc Rehab Survival Guide

Here’s what they should be telling you:

If you’re one of thousands of disabled veterans reading this, you’re likely looking for help through this crazy Voc Rehab process designed to serve our nation’s disabled veterans. This process, formally called Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E), has the least amount of published information of all Department of Veterans Affairs programs on the web, from what I can tell. Read on and you’ll get your square deal from Voc Rehab for your training.

Here’s what this article covers:

  1. What do I do before my first meeting?
  2. What will Voc Rehab pay for?
  3. How much will it pay?
  4. Where can I go to college?
  5. What degrees can I get?
  6. GI Bill versus Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation

For each of these topics, there are “asides” that need some explaining. The links below take you to more detailed information for your own benefits claim development.

First: Before that initial meeting, you (the disabled veteran) will need to prepare a basic case supporting what you want to do. Do not go in there with no idea of what you would like to do. It’s probably really annoying to the counselors, but more importantly, it makes you appear directionless. Take the time to sort out what you might want to do for the rest of your life, or at least the next few years. Click here for the Voc Rehab Survival Guide.

Second: VA Vocational Rehab will pay for anything from vocational training to medical school. If you can “prove” there will be a job waiting for you when your program is over, and the program is from an “accredited” program (ie a university or similar), your Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) will likely approve it. Proof here means something like “more likely than not” versus absolute proof like a video recording of Timmy stealing a candy bar.

Now, you also need to prove to your VRC that you can successfully complete the training. Just walking into the office and declaring you want to be a doctor will not suffice. You will need satisfactory marks on your standardized tests, like SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, etc. These tests will show the counselor you mean business.

There are other ways too, such as doing well at a community college prior to transferring to a university. Other issues may also play a factor, such as PTSD and anxiety type disorders. Depending on the degree to which you are impacted by these conditions, your VRC may determine your “Limitations” are too great for a particular area of study. For information on how to get around denials given to many disabled veterans, click here.

Third: Vocational Rehabilitation will pay for many things ranging from start-up costs to a law degree. The magic limit is $25,000 per year. If you’re rehabilitation plan is more than this, it will require additional approvals. As you can guess, getting additional approvals is very difficult to accomplish. You’re “call-to-action” better be spot on. Otherwise you may get denied and piss off your counselor, should you re-apply.

Fourth: You can attend college anywhere, so long as you can support it with documentation. Things get sticky when disabled veterans want to get a four-year degree or graduate level training paid for. The counselor will balk at the idea of sending any disabled veteran to a private college or university. Voc Rehab is required to provide a training environment that is appropriate for training and the least financial impact to tax payers. This means they are required – so they say – to send you to a public university when a program of study is offered that satisfies the goal of the veteran.

For example, in Chicago, there is the University of Chicago (referred to as just “Chicago” in academic circles) and the University of Illinois – Chicago (called UIC). Chicago is a MUCH better institution than UIC on all levels, especially in areas like Economics and Public Policy. In fact, Chicago is rated 8th nationally and UIC is Tier 3 (not even in the top 150) – no comparison. Let’s say disabled veteran Bob gets into both for an undergraduate degree. Bob wants to study Economics. Well, both UIC and Chicago have Economics programs. Guess where Bob has to attend? UIC. Now, there’s a little insider secret, or “work around” for the politically correct reader, that is outside of the scope of this discussion. Click here to get around this issue and attend Chicago (or Northwestern, or Stanford, or Harvard), if you want.

Fifth: you can get college degrees in anything that would lead to a job somewhere. The obvious choice would be getting a degree in Business, Information Technology, Engineering, Accounting or something similar. These degrees give you specific job function type skill sets that most companies need. Degrees that do not have specific applicability are English, History, Economics, Art or similar. These degree paths give you general skills such as critical thinking, writing, and problem solving. The disabled veteran may find the subjects interesting, but she will not know the difference between a credit and debit or how to create a Pivot Chart in Excel. An easy solution would be to get a Business major with a minor in History or whatever one chooses. Here is a breakdown of earnings by degree type.

Sixth: should you use the Post 9/11 GI Bill or Chapter 31 Voc Rehab? Great question. I wrote a little blog post for Military.com on the subject. Basically, Voc Rehab recipients have been basically screwed by recent legislation. In it, Senator Akaka and company have decided to discriminate between new disabled veterans and disabled veterans who exited the military prior to 9/11. The new disabled veterans can receive up to $2,800 per month in stipend funds while older disabled veterans in that same region can only receive $570. For disabled veterans with the option to choose, if you attend private school, it’s still probably better to take Voc Rehab. If you are attending a public school, the new GI Bill is the best bet. Click here for the blog explanation.

Feel free to post questions about these 6 issues or others below.

About Ben Krause: Ben is a disabled veteran from the Bosnia War and served with the USAF Special Operations Command in England. He has used Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation twice. The first time, he attended Northwestern University, a premier private university in Illinois. He is currently enrolled at Lewis and Clark College to attend law school. In total, Ben has been found entitled to receive over $250,000 in tuition and fees alone and has successfully appealed against the VA 8 times. Here’s a link to his story.

Email questions to: help@disabledveterans.org.

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Comments

  1. I am a chap.31 disabled vet. I found employment. However, I will need to move. I cant’ believe Chap. 31 won’t help with my relocation assistance. Does any one have any suggestion.

  2. I’m currently using Voc Rehab and got appoved for a BS in Technical Management. I’m about to graduate in a month and I can’t seem to find a good job to save my life. I will be done with the “48 Month” max and cannot continue to pursue a Masters degree. Is there anyway around that if I can’t find a job? technicanlly I’m not rehabilitated if I can’t find a job.

  3. Les Chapman says:

    I am a Vietnam Vet having served four years in Vietnam, a retired Sergeants Major with 100% disability and 70% alone in PTSD. I am trying to find out the percentage of all eligible Veterans who take advantage of Voc Rehab. I need this information to submit an appeals letter for additional Voc Rehab training. Can anyone provide me with factual (references) on this analysis or published documentation

    • Hi Les,
      I’m a Gulf War vet with 14 years in the military. I got out on a medical discharge due to a spinal injury and sciatica nerve damage. I’m at 70%, and just graduated from the University of Alabama Birmingham 8/10 /13.Yes!!! You are “definitely ” eligible for additional Voc Rehab training all the way up to your Masters Degree. I’m not to sure about your doctorate, but I do know that the VA will pay for your Masters. I have a great VA counselor, and this is what she told me. If you have a rating of at least 20% or more, you are eligible for Chapter 31. The VA will give you a time limit to get this done (usually in months) to get your degree. The only factual information I have right now is this link
      http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/vre/
      I hope it helps out.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Does anyone know if it is possible to change career paths while in the vocational rehab program? I have been in the program for just over one year pursuing a bachelors in business administration. With my TBI and PTSD I am finding it hard to concentrate on the hard financial/accounting parts of the degree, and with two children and knowing in the future I would want to home school them and also love children I feel early childhood education would be a better fit for me. I just wanted to know if anyone has changed their degree field before sending an email to my counselor. Thank you.

    • Yes. I am just finishing my Medical Assisting AS after having changed my career path request -twice. In week 5 of an internship, I now know this path is not the right fit for me and is exascerbating my disabilities.

      Does anyone know if I can be considered for further training in another career field? I am not lazy and the end goal is to find a career I can work hard at and earn a living, I am not interested in seeking unemployment.

  5. I am in the Ch 31 program and not a post 9-11 vet. I find it very difficult to survive on the meager stipend that they offer. I have taken out loans and financial aid to get get by month to month, and next year (my senior year of college), I will no longer be eligible for financial aid or student loans because I have maxed them out trying to keep a roof over my head. My voc rehab counselors only advice is to go out and get a job which is a catch 22 considering the program that I’m in. Does anyone have any advice on how to survive in this program without loans or financial aid. I attend school full time and can not afford a car, which very much limits me finding suitable work to survive.

    thank you so much,

    • Hi Jeff,

      I feel you on your situation, but don’t give up and finish school. Have you try some at home jobs? Places like Bank of America and American Express have potions to work at home for customer service. If you speak another language you also have languageline.com that hires to translate phone conversations.

      Good Luck!

  6. Hello,
    I am approved through VA voc rehab for my BSN. I made a quick choice. Now that I thought about life and examined my intrest I have decided to become a PA. I want to change my plan to this how do I do it?
    Thanks.(PA is a Physicians Assistant which is a Masters)

  7. I am about to finish up my BS/BM degree paid for by CH 33 which is running out soon. I am 40% disabled and I have always wanted to be an on-air personality in the radio business. Will CH 31 pay for a mentoring program I found out about online that also has a job placement program at the end. I am currently employed as a civil servant in a profession that has nothing to do with this field.

  8. johncolorado says:

    can i use chap 31 again, i went to havc classes and couldnt get a job no experience,
    i would like to go to barber school,

  9. For Marco (and any other concerned individuals): Unfortunately, some schools use the extreme VA guidelines for submission of benefit requests. This means that they can wait until 30 days after the drop/add date before submitting to the VA. Then the 4-6 week VA processing time kicks in! I expected a delay my first semester, but even though I did not get “pre-approved” by my school, I certainly did not expect it this year. This year, according to the VA rep I spoke with, there were several hundred thousand new veterans attending school which caused a significant backlog. As of that conversation there was nothing implemented to streamline the process and future delays should be expected. Check with your VA Advisors to see if they have a pre-approval process to help out.

  10. My husband just completed his degree through Chapter 31, and now his monthly pay has ceased. When he first began the program, he was told that they would continue to pay him until he found a job, but that he would have to begin phase two of the program (the job search portion). He has begun this (just received his degree a week ago) and has prospects for employment, but has not been hired yet. We are suffering financially due to this loss of pay. Do you know what the guidelines are for the monthly pay upon completion, and how long that pay should last?

  11. My school holds on to my financial aid reward until the VA pays them. This is just their policy for third party payment plans. Every semester I am needing to wait a very long time; almost till the end of each semester to collect my reward. The stipend helps a little but the financial aid money is what really helps. Especially since we do not get in between pay now. Why does it take them so long to process my paperwork and pay my school? Who could I contact to try and expedite the process besides my counselor. I know my schools policy is rare. Are they assuming that we can all get our financial aid before the school gets paid? My paperwork supposedly got submitted some time in January and it is now April. Any advice for me would be great. It is hard to concentrate on school with financial issues to deal with.

  12. I was just sent an e-mail from the VA regional office employment department stating I would be responsible for repaying $56K if I did not respond to their e-mail.. They have been sending me e-mails for jobs 6 hours away from me, jobs in a totally different area that I am not qualified for and my husband is still on active duty, which means I would be leaving my husband and two young girls to take the jobs. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and Depression from the VA and am not able to work anyway right now. On top of all of this my husband has orders out of country where we will relocate for 3 years in June. Can the VA make me repay the loans because I have not found work since completing the program?

  13. Ashleigh Wall says:

    Hello Mr. Krause,

    I am currently using Voc Rehab to get my BSW. I have a plan to get my Masters in Social Work. I am wanting to know if Voc Rehab will pay for relocation expenses. I will not be attending the same University due to the problems within the Masters program and would like to get my Masters from a good school. My counselor knows that I am planning on going out of state. I am just wanting to know if they will help offset the cost of moving,

    Thanks!

    • Some VRC’s will. It will be up to your new VRC. It is normally only mileage reimbursement. You have to relocate first and then they old office will send your file to the new one. You have to move to new location first!!!

  14. Good day Ben,
    My ETS was back in June 2001 from the Army. I am 60% disabled and have used Voc Rehab back in 2006 to get finish up an AA degree in design I started before I began my time in service. I’d like to go back and finish up a Bachelors degree in Design (basically finishing up the degree I started). I have had a heck of a time getting anyone to talk to, but the one person who called me back said I would have to prove that I physically can not to the job they already trained me for to even be considered back in at all. I still have time left to enroll in Voc Rehab as far as the time frame is concerned, but my injuries haven’t worsened thankfully. I really want this. Am I wasting my time even trying to get back in. Please lend me some wisdom. Thanks.

  15. I am going for my first appointment with Voc Rehab in about a week.

    I have 70 percent disabilty for PTSD right now, I was wanting to know if I complete School but am unable to hold down a job will my rating go down?

    I know I could most likily do very well in school since I could just keep to myself, I am just unsure if I could be able to interact with my co-workers without flipping out of them. I speak my mind about what I think about people without thinking if I should say it or not. Thats why I dont have many friends at all, besides a few other veterans that are not totally stupid.

  16. I have been battling with Sabrina Harris for the last 5 months. This VRC refuses to follow VRE Chp 31 regulations and is trying everything she can to disqualify me from my entitlements. Does anyone know a good attorney that handles Chp 31?

  17. A little something veterans should know if you are rated for PTSD.. Voc Rehab will “NOT” pay for certain schools.. Ie: Gunsmithing, Commercial Pilot or anything they deam dangerous? But you can go buy a weapon? As long as you dont have a felony or domestic violence??
    So im now forced to go to the 9/11 GiBill(Which is run by the VA also??) and the 9/11 will pay for the school??? Point is, I wanted the VocRehab because they’ll cover cost of tools and such.. Now I have to pay out of pocket..

    Thanks for serving, Thanks for getting blown up a few times.. Sorry you have TBI and PTSD.. But your a nut job!!!

  18. Why isn’t Voc Rehab benefits transferable? My daughter could use the money towards college . My ex and I never married but he did nothing with his benefits. I met him a few years after he left the military and our daughter was born much later. Just doesn’t seem fair that the children can’t use an otherwise substancial benefit that he is doing nothing with

  19. Tom Gandofini says:

    You can get a degree for History, English, Math etc. easily approved if you pitch it right. I am an eight year Navy veteran who was hit by a crane ball and am now paralized from the waist down. I was approved for a degree in history with no problems at all beacuse there is a very good market for history majors as “teachers”. You do have to pitch it to them that way. I start college this month!

  20. Nate S. Ramirez says:

    Ben,
    Thank you for making the effort to maintain this website and help your fellow veterans use their Vocational Rehab benefits.

    Right now, I am in the process of finishing up my AA in Human Services, with the intent of transfering to a University to finish my BA. However, I want to finish my BA, an MA and Phd in Sociology using the Voc Rehab program.

    My question is, in the past I seem to remember being told by a Voc Rehab counselor about having at least 6 months left of benefits left to be able to use Voc Rehab. Is that still true?

    This was in 2005, I realize things are always changing. Thank you for any guidance you can provide.

  21. I just moved to the state of Washington and am trying to figure out a way to get funds for a flight school (helicopter to be specific). I have 13 months left of entitlement on my post 9/11 GI and also have 20% disability. I am finding it difficult to get any flight program paid for if anyone knows anything on the subject, including getting Voc Rehab to pay for it, please let me know.

  22. Patrick Putze says:

    This is directed at: “I’m not tellin’”

    Hi. Is there any way I can get in touch with you? I just got accepted into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and have only 3 mos of 48 mos left for GI Bill and the school accepts VR&E as well. I just want to pick your brain and get some pointers please contact me at: patrick@patrickputze.com

    Hope to hear from you soon!
    Thanks!

  23. I’ve used up all of my GI Bill. How will this impact my eligibility for Voc Rehab?

    I was previously approved for Voc Rehab but couldn’t get approved for the program I wanted to take because they asked for information that just wasn’t available to me. I completed my useless degree in Film Production and am now working in medical administration (joy!).

    We are looking to grow our family and I need to improve my earning potential and find a job that is going to stimulate me and inspire me to come to work every day. I think a degree in a science field will be the thing, but there is no overlap with my current degree so I will essentially have to go back to school for 4 years or more.

  24. Robert Blanford says:

    I wanted to find out about stipend for outline courses. I am currently attending the Nursing program through Excelsior College, via voc rehab, chp 31. The nursing courses are basically exams.

  25. “The disabled veteran may find…subjects [other than business] interesting, but she will not know the difference between a credit and debit or how to create a Pivot Chart in Excel.”
    This must have been written by a business or accounting major – did you know that some people don’t give a rat’s ass about MS Excel, balance sheets, or P+L statements? FYI – A business degree does not guarantee a job – my undergrad program was finance (from a top 10 business school) and I could not find a job (back in 2001, when the tech bubble killed the job market) so I joined the Army. My advice: find out what you really enjoy, then find a way to get paid to do it - whether it is musical composition, sculpture, or biochemical engineering. Voc Rehab will pay for it as long as you qualify, have good test scores (I.Q., GRE, GMAT, etc.), and the disability doesn’t interfere with the job that you are training for. I am now out of the Army and the VA (Voc. Rehab) is paying for my MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching Visual Art) after paying for about 60 or 70 undergraduate studio art credits (that were prerequisites for my current program) PLUS subsistence and my VA pension.
    If you can dream it, you can do it!!

  26. Please let me know if I understand this correctly…. I’ve contacted the VA about my eligibility for the GI Bill and they looked me up on their system and told me that I have 1 year left to go, which surprised me because I graduated with my B.S. back in 2001…

    They told me that I can convert it to the Post-9/11 because I had returned to service after college and would receive the added benefit of $1540 per month for housing, based on my school’s zip code where I would like to attend.

    And as I understand it, while I wish to go to a flight school listed on the VA website, but I can’t go there until Oct.1,2011 under the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s changes.

    To add to that, I am at 50% disability with the VA, and have verified on the phone that I should be able to attend school under the Voc Rehab program too, but the lady that answered the phone told me that she had no idea how much that program’s living allowance would be when she told me that I have to go to their website and make a choice between the Post 9/11 GI Bill of Voc Rehab that is irreversible.

    But what I’ve read here, starting on Oct.1,2011, the amounts for both programs will be the same, right? So there would be an advantage for people going to a traditional 4-year college to go under the Voc Rehab if they are at or above 20% because there wouldn’t be a “break” in housing, or am I reading too much into that for them?

    My main concern is that I have been homeless for the past two years, even though I am working full time. (Which is to say I don’t get payed well and my stuff is in storage while I drive a truck all over the country and live in the 18 wheeler…)

    Thus, the amount of money I would receive for housing or what ever you want to call it would be extremely important to me as I’m trying to figure out what to do so I can get a place to live and focus on starting a new life and be able to actually get some help from the VA with my medical problems…

    ANY ADVISE WOULD BE APPRECIATED.

  27. How should I prepare for my first meeting with my Voc Rehab counselor?

  28. I was approved (very quickly) for CHP 31 Voc Rehab today but I am having trouble seeing the benefits over the GI Bill so far. Ben, how would you go about receiving the GI Bill stipend under CHP 31? This was certainly not something my counselor mentioned. The program seems very limited but I believe it has alot to do with this area and an apparent mass exodus of VA employees in that office.

    • You can elect to use Chapter 30 GI Bill. The Congress is trying to get the CFR to reflect the new Chapter 33 GI Bill. It will likely look like 38 CFR Part 21.264. Here is what the reg says about the old GI Bill. The new reg when it’s done being drafted will likely look similar. Go to the site for the full regulation: http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=8df0c0c27a34a570cb9506eb7c14a553&rgn=div8&view=text&node=38:2.0.1.1.6.1.205.96&idno=38

      § 21.264 Election of payment at the 38 U.S.C. chapter 30 educational assistance rate.

      (a) Eligibility. A veteran who applies for, and is found entitled to training or education under Chapter 31, may elect to receive payment at the educational allowance rate and other assistance furnished under Chapter 30, for similar training in lieu of a subsistence allowance, provided the following criteria are met:

      (1) The veteran has remaining eligibility for, and entitlement to educational assistance under Chapter 30;

      (2) The veteran enrolls in a program of education or training approved for benefits under Chapter 30;

      (3) The program of education is part of an IWRP (Individualized Written Rehabilitation Plan) approved by VA.

  29. If you have your GI Bill, VA will not pay for your school unless you exhausted your GI Bill. Basically from my understanding from the counslor, you can only use Voc-Rehab the same amount of months you have left on your GI Bill. Example, if you used 6 months of it already, VA will only fund an extra 30 months for a total of 36 months. Only way VA will pay for everything is, if you don’t have a GI Bill because you transferred it to your kids, only then will VA be obligated to pay for your schooling. If you still have your GI Bill, good luck having VA fund your education for you without ever utilizing your GI Bill.

    • Hi Tony,

      It is completely inaccurate to assert you cannot use Voc Rehab if you have the GI Bill. You are not allowed to use them both at the same time, though, you can be in Voc Rehab and receive the stipend amount from the GI Bill. You are unable to get both stipends at the same time.

      But, if you have a 20% disability rating with an employment handicap, you are entitled to Voc Rehab regardless of your GI Bill availability. Plus, Voc Rehab is a standard 48 month entitlement, not 36 months like the GI Bill. Voc Rehab can also be extended. I am approved to use Voc Rehab for a total of 80 or so months – just shy of 7 years. Many VA Voc Rehab counselors push disabled veterans to use the GI Bill for a variety of reasons, but it is not required.

  30. MR Mcneil,

    I am a veteran just as you are. I have been layed off for five months and I am interested in attaining educational benefits. I notice one thing right from the start about you. Look at how you type. Just look at how you communicate. I really do not know how you expect anyone to take you serious when you can not even take the time to actually complete a sentence or bother to spell words. I am not trying to be rude or make you mad. I was a non-comissioned officer in the US Army, presentation is everything sometimes. From reading your questions and statements you come across as not being ready to attend an institution of higher education. You seem as though you can not even apply the basics of what you should have learned by the time you graduated Highschool. Your counselor sees this and can also tell, that you question their intelligence. Losing your temper, and being combative is going to keep you out of the game. Calm down, slow down, act like you have sense and get things done.

  31. Jasper H. Garrett, Jr. says:

    Dear Sirs: I have a question that needs an answer pronto. My Voc Rehab counselor tells me that I need a six-month certificate of sobriety. I asks if this is policy? If so, where can I find this policy? as I want to read it for myself? I’ve checked 38 CFR and have been unable tofind anything.

    Your assistance will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Jasper

  32. Lester Mcneil says:

    my va voc rehab counselor refuses to extend me in this dumb assestment class she had me in, which was to be able to allow her to see if i could handle the work force, but i dont really want that. what i want from voc-rehab is to be able to go to school, or to get to help me start my own business. i recently been trying to talk to someone over her head because she is not helping me. i can hardly get her on the phone and when i do she forgets to take care of anything i ask her. i suffer from ptsd,panic attacks, clinical depression, i only have partial use of my right arm, because i was shot mulitible times, including two gunshots to my lowerback, resulting severe backpain, please help me to get on with my life. i would greatly apreciate any info u can share that u think may help, sincerely yours Lester mcneil.

    • VA Voc Rehab counselors have the final say as to what your direction will be within the program. I would follow whatever she tells you to do and cooperate. Any Voc Rehab assessment will require you to complete it. And they are not stupid. Keep in mind, VA Voc Rehab Counselors have been training for many years on how to best handle disabled veterans. It’s always better to comply and be patient with the process.

  33. Hi,
    I am the spouse of a 100% disabled veteran who has been unemployed for 6months and interested in a “new career.” My spouse was awarded his disability in 2001. Is he still eligible for any type of help with vocational schools through Voc Rehab?

  34. There’s no working link in the last sentence of the second paragaph under the “fourth” set of discussion points. “Click here to get around this issue and attend Chicago (or Northwestern, or Stanford, or Harvard), if you want.”

    Would be interesting to read that article.

    Thanks for the help.

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