Kick it into gear before your first Voc Rehab meeting.
I love talking about Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment. Not because I have nothing better to do. No. I’m currently on vacation with my 9-year-old and writing this post (she’s sleeping). But the reason is because no one, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), talks about Voc Rehab beyond vague comments about the benefit. It’s like that one odd uncle no one talks about at Christmas.
Better yet, it’s like listening to the President talk about the Libyan (soon to be) War. Is it a Kinetic Action? Is it a Humanitarian Mission? Is it a… War? As with Vocational Rehabilitation, many folks tell disabled veterans different stories about the program. This article will help you sift through the BS to get your veterans benefits.
Part 1: Voc Rehab Tricksters
Here’s the first part of this post; it’s your orientation. The Dept of Veterans Affairs has no issue with slamming on other websites and on authors selling books. On VAntage Point, the VA’s newest attempt at putting lipstick on the pig, the Veterans Administration employees tell you what you need to think about other sources of information.
Here is a recent quote from their website:
‘One of the most common things I hear from fellow Veterans is “I don’t know what benefits I qualify for.” VA.gov is admittedly clunky and confusing (something we’re looking to fix), and there are many websites that promote bad or inaccurate information about Veterans benefits. It’s no wonder that many folks have questions about what they’re entitled to after leaving the service.’
I underlined the “bad or inaccurate” part so no one misses it. Now, not to be a dick, but perhaps the Veterans Administration should spend some of their $3.2 billion annual IT budget on making their websites and blogs more helpful and less “clunky and confusing.” Or, maybe they could stop misleading vets when we try to get our benefits. But I digress.
Let’s test their words. Click here download their new VA benefits manual PDF. Go to the bottom of page 29 to read about Vocational Rehabilitation. The VA spent a whopping 2 pages on the subject.
The guide I wrote, Voc Rehab Survival Guide, which just focuses on VA Vocational Rehabilitation, is 60 pages. Well, I’ll bet you’re thinking, “That VA guide must have a really jammed 2 pages,” right? It’s not. But you should look anyway. After all, I’m not here to see who has the biggest tractor. I’m here to see which tractor works best.
Take a look at their veterans benefits guide and see if it answers any of the following fibs Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors tend to tell disabled veterans. Of course, these counselors tend to rely on veterans not knowing anything about the program.
Why is this? It’s because the Veterans Administration tells you nothing useful about the program on their “clunky and confusing” website. That way, they can get away with telling you BS and keeping their backlogs artificially shorter.
Always remember, many counselors don’t lie or intentionally mislead, but you want to be sure yours is being a straight shooter by being armed with the facts yourself.
Part 2: Voc Rehab Truths
Lie #1 “We won’t pay for more school.”
This comes into play when you’re about to finish your educational track or training track and realized you cannot find a job with your degree. A typical example of this would be someone who got a degree in Psychology or Sociology, degrees with no real tangible skill that helps you find a job directly translatable job. A degree in Accounting would be the opposite, where you can usually find a job as an accountant.
Truth: Notice the grammar, “We won’t pay for more school.” When I heard this when I first applied, I took it to mean Vocational Rehabilitation “could not” pay for school beyond an undergrad. Won’t ≠ Can’t. It can pay for much more than you may think. Keep reading.
Lie #2 “No more benefits beyond 48 months.”
Many counselors flat out tell this to vets. Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration guide does mention that limitations can be extended but doesn’t tell you how to get it done. One has to wonder why that is. I mean, with a pretty healthy budget, and the VAntage Point telling you the VA wants to do more, why can’t the VA do more? Can’t the VA be more specific about getting more than 48 months of educational benefits? The answer: it’s because they won’t, not because they can’t.
Truth: The 48-month limit can be extended if the veteran is deemed to have a “serious employment handicap.” This can be found in 38 CFR Part 21.52 “Determining a Serious Employment Handicap.” Beyond this, a counselor told me that they could increase beyond 48 months for other reasons based on the need for “additional schooling.”
Lie #3 “Voc Rehab only covers practical degrees.”
The above veterans benefits guide touted by the VA above gives no mention of the types of degrees a veteran can obtain. During most initial meetings with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, veterans are told what types of degrees they can obtain. As a general rule of thumb, the counselor will steer them in a direction the counselor feels the most comfortable with, not always what the veteran wants.
Truth: I know of quite a few disabled veterans who were approved for very obscure degrees. One woman was approved for a Masters Degree in Theology. Another veteran received funding for a degree in Music and another in Art and still another for a Masters of Fine Arts. I was approved for a Juris Doctorate.
Lie #4 “Chapter 31 will not cover graduate school.”
This is a biggie. I was told this. Many veterans are told this. Is it true? No.
Truth: A veteran can obtain a graduate level education through Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation, period. There are many Board of Appeals claims you can find online where the veteran won his or her claim requesting payment of a graduate degree. It happens, just not that often.
There, that’s enough to get things moving. Again, not all VA employees are bad; however, when it comes to my hard earned benefits, I always like to get the facts first. Better you go in armed than ignorant. Remember: be wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove.
What do I know? I have used Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation twice. The first time around, they told me Voc Rehab would not pay for law school. So, I was only approved up to a Bachelors degree in Economics. The second time around, they told me Voc Rehab would not pay for law school because there are no jobs for lawyers; but Voc Rehab would pay for me to get an MBA.
I pushed, and they approved me for law school. Then, I decided to write about Vocational Rehabilitation and Disability Compensation Benefits. To do this, I bought the domain www.disabledveterans.org with my disability back pay, in 2010. The site has now helped hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans get better access to their benefits since it’s been up.
The most recent “win” happened today. One resourceful veteran received funding for Medical School at one of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. after he was initially told “Voc Rehab won’t do that.” Then, he emailed me for what I call, “strategic self-help.” In the end, he got it done.
I don’t pretend to know everything about VA Vocational Rehabilitation, but I do know how to find answers and how to win. So, what do I know? Enough to get the job done.