Many disabled veterans are asking a lot of questions about how to know if they qualify for Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E). Simply put, you must have a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The rating must be 20% (or 10% if it’s severely limiting in physical abilities). One of your disabilities must limit you in your ability to perform your former job or current job or possibly limit your future ability to perform the job. Beyond this, the following lists how your counselor should view your case when you meet with him/her for the first visit.
Lastly, you must be within a 12 years from the point you received your first Comp & Pension rating, unless your counselor deems you to have a Serious Employment Handicap. The 12 year limit can be extended. Another caviate is that an increase to your disability rating can also allow you to use Voc Rehab after the 12 year clock starts ticking. The point of this, if you are unsure about the possibility of an extension to the 12 year limit, just apply. If you get denied, check with your Veteran Service Officer to ensure the denial was appropriate.
Your case must fall within the parameters of the law: 38 CFR Part 21.40-42.
21.40 tells you what the criteria is:
§ 21.40 Basic entitlement to vocational rehabilitation benefits and services.
An individual meets the basic entitlement criteria for vocational rehabilitation benefits and services under this subpart if VA determines that he or she meets the requirements of paragraph (a), (b), (c), or (d) of this section. For other requirements affecting the provision of vocational rehabilitation benefits and services, see §§21.41 through 21.46 (period of eligibility), §21.53 (reasonable feasibility of achieving a vocational goal), and §§21.70 through 21.79 (months of entitlement).
(a) Veterans with at least 20 percent disability. The individual is a veteran who meets all of the following criteria:
(1) Has a service-connected disability or combination of disabilities rated 20 percent or more under 38 U.S.C. chapter 11.
(2) Incurred or aggravated the disability or disabilities in active military, naval, or air service on or after September 16, 1940.
(3) Is determined by VA to be in need of rehabilitation because of an employment handicap.
Next question you should be asking is “what’s an employment handicap?” According to 38 CFR Part 21.35, an Employment Handicap means:
§ 21.35 Definitions.
(a) Employment handicap. This term means an impairment of a veteran’s ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with such veteran’s abilities, aptitudes, and interests.
Think through what you have documented from your Comp & Pension claim. If something you have listed as a Service-Connected Disability limits your ability to perform on the job, then you may have an Employment Handicap.
Lastly, if you are within 12 years of the last time you received a rating increase, you might qualify for benefits. You may be able to apply for additional benefits if you received a rating increase after completing the program, in the past.
§ 21.42 Deferral or extension of the basic period of eligibility.
The basic period of eligibility does not run as long as any of the following reasons prevents the veteran from commencing or continuing a vocational rehabilitation program:
(a) Qualifying compensable service-connected disability(ies) not established. The basic period of eligibility does not commence until the day VA notifies a veteran of a rating determination by VA that the veteran has a qualifying compensable service-connected disability under §21.40
And that sums up how to tell if you might qualify for benefits. If you are told something contrary to what is listed above, you may want to file a Notice of Disagreement or an Administrative Review. Either way, be sure to contest ANY issue you may disagree with prior to the 1 year appeal limit. In other words, you must appeal within one year of any decision you may disagree with about your training.