Major Changes Afoot Within VA Vocational Rehabilitation

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There are major changes afoot within the VA Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment program – – some might even call it a facelift of sorts.

What do Artificial Intelligence, new policies, and vocational benefits for veterans have in common? VA Vocational Rehab at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with VRE Service Director Will Streitberger to discuss the Voc Rehab program and upcoming changes in how benefits are delivered. While I expected to hear various tidbits about agency improvements, I did not expect that the improvements were so numerous.

In 2020, the Voc Rehab program will likely undergo a significant facelift.

RELATED: What Is Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment?

It will have a new online searchable policy manual called the M28C. The current paper CER file will be integrated within VBMS. Counselors will be assisted in communications with veterans using Artificial Intelligence to help them keep in touch more easily. Decisionmaking across the counselor will be standardized rather than hung up in local policymaking outside the purview of VA Central Office.

For over a decade, Voc Rehab Counselors have struggled with caseloads that were too high along with paperwork requirements that took away from providing vocational counseling services to veterans needing that kind of service.

The goal was to keep the ratio at 1 counselor to 125 clients, but that rarely worked out as some counselors had caseloads of double that ratio.

RELATED: How To Win Voc Rehab Benefits

Under Director Streitberger, the program modifications starting next year aim to lighten the load from counselors so they can focus on their core mission – – providing services to veterans – – and to make that process as worry-free for veterans as possible.

Veterans needing supplies for school will get those supplies without fighting with counselors for months to access those needed resources. This includes streamlining computer purchasing for veterans where the use of a computer is required to complete a training program. Invoice approval and justifications will no longer burden counselors as it had in the past with the new processing system rolling out in Q4 2019.

RELATED: Join Over 32,000 Veterans In Our Voc Rehab Facebook Group

Through AI, Voc Rehab Counselors should also, in theory, be able to stay in touch with veterans. Currently, some counselors are so overworked (or indifferent) that they would not respond to veterans’ inquiries within a reasonable amount of time (2 days). The new system will ensure tracking and responses whenever veterans seek help.

Last, self-employment may see a significant change in the future to expand access to the benefits program. The use of a two-category system, Category I vs Category II, has resulted in significant difficulty for veterans when trying to obtain the benefit.

RELATED: Use Voc Rehab With TDIU Rating

Instead of using that system, Voc Rehab may eliminate the differentiation to cut down on red tape while also expanding access to self-employment support.

Voc Rehab is uniquely positioned to increase independence and self-sufficiency for veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs, and Director Streitberger is committed to helping these veterans achieve that objective.

Otherwise, I know some readers are likely wondering about what the Director is like in person.

His dedication level is apparent, and he comes from within Voc Rehab, which can lend itself to certain advantages over directors without that kind of background. His senior staff clearly respect him, and he had a firm grasp of the major changes that are underway.

That aside, he is likely also the kind of boss a person would get a beer with.

In all, I would say the Voc Rehab program will be in good shape to serve more veterans better than in the past once the reforms and updates are fully implemented.

And how do I know?

Beyond meeting every VRE Service Director since 2011, I have represented veterans in their Voc Rehab appeals since I became an attorney years ago, and the responsiveness of Voc Rehab staff in the field has significantly improved over the past 12 months.

That says a lot, in itself.

If you are familiar with Voc Rehab in the past, you know that improving the responsiveness of staff in the field is a significant improvement that requires buy-in from both VA Central Office and the Office of Field Operations. While I am sure much still needs to be done, the program is obviously moving in a positive direction, and quickly.

Great job to Director Streitberger and his team thus far!

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22 Comments

    • Come back to correct my comment about Director Streitberger in regards to the Nobel Peace Prize. Dummy me I should have known that scientists and anyone who delivers outstanding achievements, goodwill, medical cures, discoveries towards humanity and life itself can be nominated to receive this honor. I say Director Streitberger keep going to improve all. Ben, Mr. Streitberger, should pay attention to this. There are many veterans who are stuck in assisting living who might could live independently and might could go to school and even might could return to the workforce. Put it like this if VHA would streamline some of these damn horrific medications that have serious side effects and life threatening consequences, some of the veterans whom the VA has stashed away in these facilities just might become able to live a more meaningful lives. VA pumps those Black Box Listed Medications which
      are life threatening and which create more health issues for the vets to half to deal with. Plus, situations add more workloads to the VHA. A vicious circle. Vets can be worked with to help them move more towards recovery than towards hospice. I have mentioned this before. A bridge should be interlaced between Independent living and Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation. Ben, the extended evaluation determines very little particularly if the counselor does not even contact the volunteer work supervisors for performance feedback and too if the counselor is missing for his or her maternity leave. I am not saying the counselor should not have rights to go on maternity leave. I am saying that Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation is disregarding veterans’ rights when the counselor cannot be attentive to the details of the happenings when he or she is not even present. The veterans are being shortchanged and the veterans’ lives are being sabotaged which keeps them in limbo. Hear me Ben. It is true. The CRCs are overwhelmed with the caseloads. Plus they were having to keep track of paying the benefits out for supplies and tuition in addition to counseling the veteran. Ben, this was not fair to the VBA Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation counselors either. They are people too. I can critique from the side of the veteran and from side of the counselor but only from my experiences with having participated in the Independent Living program and from having participated in the Extended Evaluation Program or plan. Ultimately, if Director Streitberger can really shift the program to move veterans into success and prosperity, there is no reason why he should not be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is adding to the goodwill of the veteran community which is long overdue. 🇺🇸🗽🥇👍😎

      • In regards to my situation, the Chapter 31 Vocational rehabilitation counselor did make the correct decision back in 2015. During that time, I was tasked with too many concerns to even have been approved. My situation would have contributed to a waste of VA funds and her time unless she could have approved it and suspended it for about 6 months. I had to be elsewhere for that next 6 months which was not of my choice. Best.

      • However, the counselor in 2015
        had no idea about what would be forthcoming for me to have to deal with. I am referring to the concerns that took me out of state. So she could not have suspended my case even if she had wanted to. Because I did not even know what was about to happen out of state.

        My functionality was not as good during the year of 2015 as compared to what it is now in 2019. Have a nice evening.

    • I will say this and I will shut up. Yes, VA had it issues at me and other vets of course, but, Benjamin, I believe the time when they really turned on me was 2015 forward. Yes, Chapter 31 Voc Rehab had denied me in 2015 and had denied up to that point. But, here is the kicker Ben. During this time the VA was giving me a hard time about seeing about my sister. Oh yes confrontive at me trying to stop me from going to Atlanta on occasion. I had had to travel to Atlanta even before the time in 2015. Though, I had to stay in 2015 into 2016 because she almost died. I had to take over everything. Ben, when I came back is when I really noted the VA had fully turned on me. It was happening before 2015; but, when I came back is when I do believe the VA shut me down in regards to them.

      I value my family. I do not give a damn what the government has to say about this.

      The government leaves people to die over and over.

      Well, Ben, I DO NOT.

      So here is the source of my sour taste at the VA.

      Yes, they have denied my VEAP-GI Bill conversion, Voc Rehab, timely care by kicking me down the road; but, here is the actual situation that pushed me not to return to the VA.

      Of course, I had to move my care out to get issues cleared up.

      It is and was the vindictiveness towards me because of helping another human being who is family.

      So I wish Director Streitberger well in reforms. At least someone in the VA is trying to do something right.

      I doubt Voc Rehab or the VA will ever witness my return. Best.

  1. Good to know of the “Possible” changes but, how is he going to improve the Entrepreneur part of this Upgrade??? Nothing was specific at all about it…

  2. Unbelievable! I have dealt with Voc Rehab a couple of times and they were so full of it. I am hesitant to go a third time.

  3. VA Voc Rehab has no way to go but up. It must be at the bottom of all Voc Rehab programs. Colorado and California state programs are far better for TBI.

  4. In 1985, I handed then-Newark, N.J., V.A. Voc. Rehab. Chief Counselor Richard Franco a letter of admission from Santa Barbara College Of Law, asked him for V.A. to pay for it. He said: “Sorry. The V.A. doesn’t pay for law school.” What upsets me is that he did not give me a written decision on it. I did not know how to appeal. Not only that, I told him I was going to California, Humboldt State University. He told me there aren’t many months left on my eligibility for V.A. Voc. Rehab.. After I arrived in Arcata, California, settled in a Dormitory Room, he called me and said my V.A. Voc. Rehab. benefits have run out, that “I kind of feel like the bad guy.” I do not recall him deciding on eligibility for an extension of V.A. Voc. Rehab., 38 U.S.C. Section 3105.(b), and I don’t recall whether he ever told me whether I was declared rehabilitated to employability.” Last week, I attended Orientation for Phoenix V.A. Voc. Rehab. program. Wendy Hughes, Phoenix V.A. Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Services, was the VRC. She asked me in her office “So what do you want?” I said “Naturopathic Doctor” program. I handed her the required forms already filled out and a 43 page word-processed description of my criminal past with my indictment of the criminal justice system. She wouldn’t accept the thick pile of court orders intended to accompany the criminal history statement. She then said she will go somewhere else in the office and for me to sit out front near the reception desk. When she reached the aisle to walk to the employees-only area, she turned, looked at me, mumbled in a low tone of voice something to the effect that she could have me blown away. Uphon hearing that, I walked to the reception desk, asked for a form to fill out. The White male receptionist gave me an empty form. I filled out out, asking for a White Non-Hispanic VCR to replace Wendy Hughes (who is Black female). The receptionist told the office manager about the request, who came out, appeared upset, stated it will take about three days for him to decide the written request for a new VRC. Soon afterwards, I received a voicemail on my cell phone, (My cell phone number)(602) 517-3942, by a Hispanic woman representing herself to be the newly assigned Phoenix V.A. Voc. Rehab. VRC. I showed up to the appointment yesterday with the newly assigned VRC, but she did not have any record of the aforementioned 43 page criminal history statement. I insisted on going to my car and retrieving a copy of same, and did so. The new VRC said she’ll contact me in a couple of weeks with her decision of my eligibility for V.A. Voc. Rehab. I’m presently rated permanent and total disabled, “BiPolar Disorder,” in “protected rating” under 38 U.S.C. Section 110. [I had explained to the new VRC that I did not seek employment because V.A. counselors had been warning me my disability rating might be reduced if they find out I got a job. I also told her I already performed the “trial work experience” of volunteering at St. Mary’s Food Bank, for the presently pending Arizona State voc. rehab., and 40 clinical hours at an assisted living facility in a Nursing Assistant program, both over the past year.]

  5. This will be in the news cycle shortly

    Special Place In Hell For This Government

    Everyone knows someone who life was destroyed by the VA or Social Security. These agencies make our veterans and disabled wait years due to deliberate denials. VA employees getting bonuses for killing veterans while veterans get federal court. Veterans in crisis being pushed away by the very agency that suppose to help. Its simple made hard as lawyers have clients living in the woods and committing suicide. The government’s solution is to give our citizens pills where the side effects are suicide. The Social Security theft department will take their payments on time and when you need them you will be left holding the bag. This all leads to veterans and the disabled committing suicide. Government failures will be felt threw the holidays.

  6. Benjamin, outstanding article. I keep crossing my fingers and praying for change. I hope Director Streitberger follows through. So Ben tell me do I have a chance to reapply to Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation or has the VA written me off? However, VBA Chapter 31 might be shocked today. Since Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation denied me in 2015, my health status of today is well beyond improved since 2015. Ben, I maybe too well today. Ben, they kept kicking me down the road with everything so I had to leave the VA to take care of all myself. I have rewritten my resume to define what I have done to a more specific task and skill level. I just finished a Calculus 1 class online while also having been involved out of state overseeing and straightening out some healthcare of a family member. I finished A+ Computer Certification class 1 of 2 back in the spring. Ben, since I left the VA, I have lost about 50 pounds or more. The service officers here locally will not acknowledge that I hardly exist since I left the VA. What in the hell am I supposed to do? Stay in the VA and eat shit and die. The National DAV has emailed me a couple of times about sharing story. Ben, it does not matter how many veterans share their stories, the main source of help is the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is true, though, people do start to experience hope and strength from other people’s experiences. What happens is internal connections ignite between and among each other. Thoughts and feelings shared ignites identification. When people arrive at the feeling level in their psyches, the feelings shared breaks the intensity of the pain or phobia or fear or depressive feelings or anger or rage or whatever feelings might be happening within the persons. This also can happen when one is experiencing psychosis. If one is totally out of reality, one needs medication and may need to be locked up short-term. It depends. Have to evaluate person in time intervals. Once person becomes stabilized but is still experiencing some intermittent symptoms of psychosis such as voices or hallucinations or delusions, this is when also the person can expose the psychosis by sharing exactly what is going on. Ben, this breaks the power of it. But the person has to keep doing it when the symptoms come back. And yes the symptoms do come back. However, after a number of years with using these compensatory skills eventually the person can almost rid the symptoms. And even after stopping medications. Also along the way people learn to do reality checks in the situations or with people involved in the situations. Ben, even with memory issues that were a problem and now they are not goes with having used compensatory skills to rehab the memory. Of course, the hippocampus part of the brain regenerates itself any way if one uses his or her brain doing constructive tasks like solving math problems, crossword puzzles, reading, and staying active. I learned to do double mental and visual notes over the years. Ben, the practice over time turns the used to be deficits into spontaneous detailed problem solving on the fly from the intuitiveness that of which exists in all of us. Has to be developed. Other aspects can include when people have trouble with speech this function can also be improved. Using talk therapy can reconnect the thought processing to the formation of the words. Though, this takes years. This does not happen over night. Not sure how I arrived at going through all of this but there is only so much another veteran can do to help other veterans. Ben, what I mean is I have helped other vets and have tried to help other veterans to then later witness the VA come right along to sabotage my efforts and others efforts. So Ben my response to the DAV is the DAV is not what it used to be. I am referring to ethics and accountability. So I am skeptical about them today. Thus, yes other veterans can help other veterans; but, the ultimate answers lie with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bottom line is about treating veterans as real human beings with respect and regard. The respect and regard goes both ways. In other words two wrongs do not make a right. Last point and I will cool it. Many federal laws are discrimatory. Yes, need change. Best. 🇺🇸🗽🏋️🥇😎🏃🌞

    • Benjamin, I contacted your firm.
      Now, that all tasks external to me are in check, I am applying for employment. Ben, on the VA Benefits website, they sent out a newsletter to my email with Social Security Ticket to Work Webinar listed on it. I have never been interested in Ticket to Work because it stops at age 65. Please Ben why can’t the federal government let me breathe? Please?
      I have desired to be fully retrained and all I have gotten from the VA is lies and kick down the road. Denials from VA Voc Rehab and Denials from State Vocational Rehabilitation. Give me a break.
      Ben, some companies have associate development programs that I may try to apply to. They offer them in many areas such as Financial analyst, Risk Management, Data analytics, etc. Companies are hiring for specific skill sets… I do believe. Chick Filet has tuition assistance… Plus scholarships…
      AAUW scholarships will fund career development, re-entry into workforce, career changer, Baer Scholarships,
      ISC2 scholarships, etc.
      They will all be against my age even though I am about 20 years younger than when my mother retired. Ben, this is what I mean when I say this country is too focused on status. Stop stepping on me and others. Discrimination.

      • Though, I do not see how I can reapply under them. Ben, the situation will be very difficult.
        Do you know why? Because the VA has never been about compromise at all. Ben, I have been shut down by state veterans officers with a VA Social Worker standing with me plus one VA doctor. With this same social worker present on 3 different occasions, I was shut down by VBA. Plus, it will be very difficult to be directed by an agency when I have been correcting behind them in the recent years. I may just stick to myself. March on with employment and scholarships.

      • Yep, Ben, I am reapplying to Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation. One question, though, should they approve it, can the approval follow me to another location should the situation turn this way? I heard you say in your video, they are establishing the program deliverables with congruency among all the Regional Offices across different VISNs. Though, VBA flows through a different network than VHA. The VISNs are contained within VHA. But, then, the moving may not need to happen. Other means such as online and commute could happen. Been working with University Career Services elsewhere other than where I am currently living. I will end with this. Why the vindictiveness directed at me that drove me out of the VA? Benjamin, if you have some answers that I am not aware of, please one day pass it on to me. An obvious answer is the VA has destroyed and sabotaged lives over the years. This maybe the only answer. In big government, humaness and accountability rarely exist. If Director Steinberger can pull his facelift Voc Rehab plans off to serve more veterans while delivering quality and substantive education/training for re-entry into the workforce with success, Ben, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Though, I believe only presidents can be awarded the Nobel prize Prize. Best. 🇺🇸🗽👍👊🙏😎

      • The content presented in my comments of the happenings that pertained to me being shutdown occurred around 10-12 years ago. When I speak of compromise, I am meaning to allow me to have my voice, my input, and my decision if within the realm of the laws.
        Ben, they may have appeared to listen; but, ultimately, this was never the case. They always existed with their own agenda particularly in the recent years. It is what it is. I tell you what else needs to be changed is veterans who are applying for VA employment who already have higher degree education and training should be respected enough to allow them to apply into the professional employment positions within the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is not happening Ben. If you look at this, this is how the VA winds up with having it’s employees at the bottom and not distributed throughout the system. This hurts the VA deliverables in my opinion. Best.

      • Oh another question? With my Voc Rehab claims being denied in 2015 on into the past and with being unable to appeal during that year, the situation is what it was. Chapter 31 was not feasible for me at that time. Back to my question, with the situation of being denied 4 years ago and with the appeal year having elapsed, does legal adovacy by you require another denial? I would think it would because I am starting over. However, it is their laws. I will reapply but I am not counting on it at all. And, I am not waiting on them just like I did not wait for them to take care of my medical issues 4 to 5 years ago. I have a preferred career path even at my age; but, they would have to approve it because in my situation I would never be able to pay for it.
        I have my other options for employment going. If they do not approve, I will just stick to my other options. Entirely up to them and of course it is because they hold the purse strings. Have a great day all. 🇺🇸🗽💞💓💖🌞🙏

      • Ben, you say Director Streitberger is someone you can be personal with. What do you think he would say and even the VA if I called up and stop payment on all my funds with the federal government across the board? Ben, the actions of government have not been in anyone’s best interest in the recent years except for the starting of this perspective in the Trump administration. I honestly have not desired anything from them. It is where I landed not by my choice. But, I get penalized for wanting to return to the substantive workforce. About to find out. Goodbye.

      • After all it seems the government is more about stripping than giving. If I stop payment, do you believe their vindictiveness would stop towards me? Even if someone has a dollar bill, you will find someone else wanting it. It seems like some people always wants what somebody else has when they do not even know the facts regarding the situation. They cannot stand for a veteran to hardly even have bench to sleep on. Look at the ordinances the government puts in place to block the rights of people on the streets. The government laws, regulations, taxes, and costs of living contributes to the poverty and to the homelessness in many cases. Then look at what happens after they become homeless. Look at the state of California. Benjamin, I am not being a smart ass. I am just commenting. All this money the federal government loves to spend and believes that Americans have will not make a bit of difference one day. Ultimately, not even one dollar bill goes with us to the grave. There is only one guarantee today and that is death. Not even birth is a guarantee anymore because look at the pro-choice supporters. We do not take any of this green with us to the grave that the VA loves so much. You know the green that contributes to the VA vindictiveness towards veteran patients. I am not being a smart ass. Best.

    • To elaborate on why I mentioned the answers lie within the VA in regards to helping veterans as per man-made….
      In reality, the answers really lie with the Lord Jesus Christ 🙏.
      But, yes, it is absolutely true veterans can help themselves. Though, here is the dilemma for the veterans and even the non-veterans. As for veterans who have already established themselves in life with employment, homes, and life itself, many of these veterans were either fully retired from the military or were from past eras before the damn government got so big. I am not directing this towards politics. My point being made pertains to the policies and laws. Many of the strangling and non-life policies belongs to the big govt globalists which includes some RINOs, Never Trumpers, and of course Democrats. My further point is the government has been existing to serve itself. It has been so overregulated and so costly to live that it lands people to becoming homeless and bankrupt. Veterans in recent past and currently with having no due process and not being able access resources points directly to the big government that has contributed to this cultural dilemma. Yes and yes. It is very difficult for anyone to even help themselves among themselves if the big government is strangling them in almost every breath taken. DAV can tout veterans helping vets but if the millions of hands from the govt are not streamlined to becoming more specific, more defined, and of less number, veterans helping veterans will be sabotaged due to government. Now,
      for the veterans who maybe receiving resources from non-profits and or private sector, these entities generate greater success because the mission is more specific, defined, and involves less hands.
      I am speaking about Home Depot helping build modified homes that makes them accessible to wheelchairs etc. I am referring to the Actor McNeese building homes. I am referring to Bill O’REILLY donating millions of dollars to purchase the track chairs for veterans. Many more but these are the ones I could think of off the top of my head. It boils down to society has become so status dictated that it is very difficult for people to survive with just the very basics. I mean even to walk into a business to pay a bill the business charges one to pay their bills with using cash. Even with Trump doing all the tax cuts and trying his best to help the everyday citizens with more efficient and effective policies, the companies and all who hate the little guy and Trump still inadvertently sabotage the conservative policies that reflect free open competitive market Capitalism. When the DAV mentions veterans helping veterans, it is too difficult because of so much adversity and overreach that has been going on. Even veterans targeted on social media and employment searches. Vets are not rich at all. Most these days can barely survive. Hell, even everyday non veterans are not well off either because the federal government has been stripping them at every turn. Trump trying to help Americans arrive with more money to live on but areas that are run by Democrats the utilities rates, taxes, and cost of living are still increasing with believing that the citizens have all this extra money. Companies, state, and local governments run by Democrats are subverting the Trump administration efforts to help the everyday American citizens. These areas run by Democrats are even thwarting the due process of private sector professionally employed citizens. So DAV here you go. There is only so much veterans can do to help each other when they are still being sunk by government and company overreach.

  7. I am a 71 year old veteran widow and I need help with moving to another state. I can’t afford the moving expense. Will VA help with moving me to another state? How much do I have to pay? Who do I contact for more information? Please advised. Thank you. Mrs. Bessie T. Masten

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