Vocational Rehabilitation is many things to many people. To some, it’s not worth the headache. For others, it’s a chance of a lifetime. The program is flawed, like many other programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are many layers to the process that, if completed, can result in a win for any veteran.
Like a football, these layers must be pulled together in order to form your case. If you follow these in order, you will likely succeed in receiving the training you wish for the ideal job you want:
- Apply for the benefit
- Research the regulations
- Find appeals cases that are similar to your situation
- Search the internet for your ideal job – regardless of training requirements
- Put together your presentation
Now, we pull the seams together. The vast majority of veterans, who apply for Vocational Rehabilitation benefits, drop out of the program prior to developing an Individualized Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP). The largest reason for this is due to a lack of understanding relating to the purpose and rules of Chapter 31. To help with this issue, I thought it would be good to write a quick guide for veterans to use when they decide to apply for benefits through Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation.
Of course, the first step to any application for benefits can be found on the VA’s own website. Here’s the link to the VA Vocational Rehabilitation application. Look over these pages. They are the only source of information you will get directly from the VA prior to the first meeting. After a week, you will receive a notice as to whether or not you meet the initial requirements. Then, you will receive a notice of your first appointment.
Pulling the seams tighter. If you’re applying for benefits, it’s important to do your research prior to your first meeting. Start by reading the regulations. These can be found online and are called the 38 CFR Part 21 and the VA’s own M28. Between these two sources, you will be able to understand the process more fully. Read over them and put your own situation into the context of those regulations. Your own case must make sense within the criteria of the regulations or it will get denied. Be real with yourself and with your counselor. If the regulations do not support your case, it is likely you will be denied.
Once you get through this portion, turn to the VA Appeals. Search for instances where the Board had to review a Voc Rehab case. Read what you can find and compare it to your own situation. This will allow you to see how the CFR applies to real veterans’ issues. Simply enter into the search “Chapter 31” and the relevant regulation to your case, say “21.50” since that’s the relevant regulation for someone seeking initial approval for entry into Chapter 31. Here is an approved appeals case where the person wanted training to become a dog trainer.
Then, after reading about what the program requirements are, do a little job market research of your own. A great website for this can be found on O*Net. Try to take a step back to see what type of career you may be aptly suited for. Then, do the research to see if you could realistically complete the training requirements. If you have a hard time reading, becoming a lawyer or doctor may not be likely. Now, if you struggle with reading because of a learning disability or cognitive disorder, that’s a very complicated set of issues to work through, but not impossible. Vocational Rehabilitation has a myriad of tests at the disposal of the professionals working within the department that can help distill the issues.
The more grandiose your training request, the more difficult it will be to gain approval. It is much easier to gain approval for an undergraduate degree in business than to gain approval to become a psychologist. If you get a denial, it does not mean you should stop pushing. On the other hand, it may mean you need to look for different ways to finance your training.
For law school, most universities will give their students around $50,000 per year in scholarships and student loans to cover tuition and living expenses. Similarly, the process of completing an MBA or PhD can be financed. PhD’s at the best schools are free along with some other graduate programs. Princeton has a great Master’s in Public Policy program that is free for qualified applicants. If your goal is to better yourself with further training to get that dream job, versus merely wanting more free benefits, there is always a way to make it happen. The only question is whether or not Vocational Rehabilitation will be your partner in the process. Good luck!