A common question veterans have asked me whether they should use Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (Voc Rehab or VocRehab or Chapter 31 or VRE) or the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
There are at least five different abbreviations or slang reference types to the program, but they are all referencing the same Chapter 31 Voc Rehab.
Since college will be starting back up in 2 months, it seems to be a good time to address it. Over the years, I have used the GI Bill and Voc Rehab. When it comes to this question, the answer is not as clear as most people think.
Hell, little within VA is clear these days, which is a large reason why I resorted to writing the Voc Rehab Survival Guide for veterans in the first place.
About Chapter 31 Voc Rehab
First of all, you need to qualify for Voc Rehab.
While most veterans asking this question are already qualified, some are not. So we’ll start from this understanding. In order to qualify for Chapter 31 Vocational Rehab, you’ll need to have a 20% disability rating. Or, you’ll need a 10% rating that the Voc Rehab Counselor feels seriously prohibits your ability to have or maintain employment.
The determination needed is called a “serious employment handicap.”
Once you apply and are accepted, then you’ll have to make a decision.
Changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill
Recent changes to the GI Bill make this decision a little easier as of August 2011.
According to the VA, disabled veterans who qualify for Chapter 31 will be able to opt for the GI Bill stipend while enrolled in training or college. This option is available so long as you have some entitlement to GI Bill remaining when you make the switch, and the stipend amount is substantially higher through this new option.
While this seems to make the decision easier, it may not. Disabled veterans may wish to have greater flexibility in selecting their training than Voc Rehab allows. For example, if you want to study Art or History, many counselors would not endorse that goal due to perceived problems getting work after college.
If you’re in Voc Rehab, the counselor is almost god over your training, and they will steer you in whatever direction they think makes the most sense for achieving employment later.
Sometimes this is good, but sometimes the “one size fits all” approach is inappropriate. After all, the veteran is the one who needs to live with the decision, not the Voc Rehab Counselor. Veterans wishing to have greater flexibility will then need to use the GI Bill.
After all, the veteran is the one who needs to live with the decision, not the Voc Rehab Counselor. Veterans wishing to have greater flexibility will then need to use the GI Bill.
Veterans wishing to have greater flexibility will then need to use the GI Bill.
The Voc Rehab Switcharoo
Now here’s where things get dicey. If the veteran runs out of entitlement under the GI Bill, they are not automatically entitled to use the remainder of the program when they apply.
Generally, veterans get up to 48 months of entitlement with Voc Rehab. However, that is not a sure thing, as it is with the GI Bill for the 36 months.
You will need to be found to be both “eligible” and “entitled” by the Voc Rehab counselor in order to use the remainder of the benefit once you use your entire GI Bill entitlement.
And one more caveat. Some veterans with “serious employment handicaps” can be found to be entitled to even more than 48 months of training.
Here’s a hypothetical: Veteran Bob decides to get an undergrad in Art using the GI Bill. After receiving the degree, Bob realizes he should have studied Business as a major because he can’t find a job. So, Bob applies with Voc Rehab.
Assuming Bob has a “serious employment handicap,” the Voc Rehab counselor may allow Bob to get a Master’s in Business Administration, Law Degree or something similar. Always remember, the goal of Voc Rehab is to get disabled veterans to the point of employability in a suitable career field. Once Bob is in the program, he gets an additional 21 months to complete the degree (or however long it takes for the respective degree).
It can be much more tricky than this hypo, but that should give some of you the gist of what to expect if you need or want more training/schooling after using up your GI Bill through Voc Rehab.
If you get caught up in the process, I would suggest checking out my Voc Rehab Survival Guide for veterans. This is a good next step after doing diligence online.
Summary: the only clear choice is to opt for the GI Bill stipend while using Chapter 31 Voc Rehab if you decide to go that route. However, if you need additional schooling, be prepared for one heck of a fight with the VA Machine to get your square deal.