VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VA Voc Rehab) changed its internet reimbursement policy after colleges moved classes online.
An email from one reader sent by a VA Voc Rehab counselor to the veteran revealed changes to the way the program reimburses veterans for internet services. Many offices do not allow reimbursement while others do.
A new policy tightens the requirements for reimbursement while easing documentation necessary to approve the costs associated with the current situation where students were forced to attend college online instead of in person.
Previously, counselors did not need to provide written justifications for all reimbursements. However, the process of reimbursement was incredibly inconsistent across jurisdictions.
The new requirement will tighten access to reimbursement, at least in the short term, while the agency works to create continuity between Regional Office divisions.
RELATED: Win Your VA Voc Rehab Benefits Claim
Recent GAO Report
A recent Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) report addressing VA Voc Rehab concluded the program varied greatly in how counselors implement the program. The agency responded to the critique by promising to study the problem.
Rebukes of this kind from GAO to Congress almost always result in VA Voc Rehab tightening requirements to the detriment of veterans and counselors. Here, counselors will likely choose to deny requests to avoid the additional work of fighting to justify reimbursements.
Despite this, the agency has apparently concluded internet reimbursement will be easier to push through due to the distance learning requirement changes at many colleges nationwide.
VA Voc Rehab Counselor Email On Internet Reimbursement
According to the email from a counselor to veterans:
“… VR&E is only permitted to provide services and supplies which are required of all students. Because of this, all regional offices do not approve internet reimbursements. Our office has been one of the few to provide this specific reimbursement for veterans. New reimbursement guidelines now requires counselors to provide written justification for all direct reimbursements. Unfortunately, I cannot provide justification for monthly home internet services for all veterans. However, there are some circumstances in which I can easily provide this justification. This includes veterans in rehabilitation plans consistent of 100% distance learning, required course available only in an online format and when a facility converts all students to distance learning.
“All internet reimbursements for the spring semester will be approved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage you to submit your spring internet bills for previous semesters, I will approve those reimbursements if you were in any online classes.“
What does the policy say?
Internet Reimbursement Explained
Right now, I do not have a copy of this new policy the counselor is referencing regarding the required justifications. The policy that is public in the M28R addresses, generally:
“In general, supplies such as a computer package or Internet service should only be purchased when the VRC determines that the purchase is required or deemed necessary to assist the Veteran in completing the objectives of a rehabilitation plan.“
Counselors will frequently deny Internet services when a veteran’s family also makes use of the Internet. However, this is not always the correct decision.
I may create a short course about this in the future because there are certain nuances to the regulation and policy that are frequently skewed against a veteran in error.
Let me know if you are interested.