VR&E Success Story

Mailroom: What is ‘Suitable Employment’ in VA Voc Rehab?

VR&E Success Story

Great question – what is “suitable employment”? Veterans ponder this one over and over as VA Voc Rehab counselors use it to deny veterans access to retraining.

One veteran wrote in over the weekend about the question following post I wrote last week.

He asked, “The phrase that I’ve read and heard before with VA is ‘suitable employment.’ What does it mean?”

This is a great question and one that requires a fact-intensive investigation. It usually comes up when a veteran has an advanced degree or basic degree already, but the vet is requesting additional training or support.

The VA Voc Rehab counselor can use the ambiguity of “suitable employment” against the veteran by concluding that even part-time employment in a field could be “suitable.”

Board Explains “Suitable Employment”

In the words of the recent VA Board of Appeals, “Chapter 31 regulations governing suitable employment are subjective, but those regulations do not require VA to provide unlimited training for the purpose of furnishing the Veteran with a greater employment opportunity.”

While true, in a sense, there is more to the story. Suitable employment is employment in an occupation that is consistent with your aptitudes, abilities, and interests. But how do we exactly know what that is?

If you want to push back and not give up, you need to really dig in and figure out how to show why your case is different.

This means you will need to show one of two things: 1) your job is not “suitable employment;” or, 2) that your education does not qualify you for suitable employment.

Here is a solution when you are faced with an ambiguous situation. I would solve this one in three steps:

  1. Ask for clarification from the counselor
  2. Look up the definition in a dictionary
  3. Combine all facts to find instances where the conclusion is unreasonable

First, ask the VA Voc Rehab counselor to provide you with a definition. If the counselor is unable to find the definition or explanation, ask her to provide you with a definition as to what they think it means.

Write down the definition you are given. Then, sculpt your argument by differentiating your case from the case of other veterans who fell within the terms she is using to deny you access to the benefit you seek.

Then, sculpt your argument by differentiating your case from the case of other veterans who fell within the terms she is using to deny you access to the benefit you seek.

Second, check any definition or word you get from VA against the plain meaning within a standard American dictionary.

When terms are not defined within the regulation or statute, you will need to find a definition if the meaning is ambiguous. With any luck, you will find a definition that contradicts the position you are arguing against. You can then use it to support your claim.

Third, if things are still ambiguous, then use a fact-intensive analysis of your own situation. Try to think of facts that support why your case is different than all the other denials. From that point, argue why VA should reconsider your situation.

Your goal is to show that your training will not result in you receiving suitable employment within the field for which you were trained.

One caveat within the terms is that you must need to use your skills gained through education. If your job or potential job does not require a college degree, or some form of technical training you had, it will likely not fit the criteria in a way that is deniable.

That does not mean they will not deny you anyway.

Here is a different kind of example, but it is an issue I had to figure out.

My counselor told me he would not approve the goal of law school unless I could get into a law school in my state. The caveat was that the state school must have a “success rate” of greater than 70%.

He did not define what “success rate” meant, and there is no such requirement in the regulations. So, I took it upon myself to create my own definition.

I created a probability equation that fit the schools in the state and my own situation without plainly stating that I did that.

Instead, I declared the definition and my justification for how I selected the criteria.

Specifically, I multiplied the graduation rate by the bar passage rate by the percentage of veterans who were employed 9 months after graduation. All the schools where I lived fit the requirement.

Shazam. I created a definition for “success rate” that was reasonable. The counselor liked the definition and I was approved.

Suitable Employment For You

In your situation, take a look at all the facts. You know that if you do not have training for the kind of job they claim you qualify for, that it will be easy to prove the fact.

Apply to all the jobs that the counselor claims are suitable for you. If you cannot get a job offer, that means you are not qualified for suitable employment to get the suitable job.

Pile on a bunch of job applications. If, after a few months and 60 applications you do not get a job, then resubmit that material to the counselor as new and material evidence.

Then, ask the counselor to change their position based on the evidence you provided.

What really matters here is your ability to convince the counselor that you are truly not qualified for suitable employment based on the evidence you provided.

If you can convince them that you need the help, they will be more likely to help you.

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  1. Randy,

    The law says that the job you have cannot aggravate your disability. Appeal based on aggravation of disability and argue that you took the job based on necessity. Make sure you support this argument with doctor’s restrictions and get letters from coworkers stating support of the items that were against your restrictions.

    Good luck.

    [email protected]

  2. Ben,
    My suitable employment was as a Co-op for the state that I reside in. (Michigan) This program is only offered from May to October and you have to be taking classes in order to remain in this program.

    Once I received my degree, I was accepted for one more Co-op position until October of this year, than I became unemployed with no unemployment insurance. Meanwhile, the V.A. had determined that this job was considered suitable employment and I was terminated from Chapter 31.

    As far as the State Vet Reps. go, I’ve contacted many and they are too busy to give me the time of day. I’ve applied for hundreds of positions with no success. This Co-op position even now disallows veteran preference after graduation due to the fact that you were already a state employee.

    One more thing, the state requires you to join the SEIU union and union dues are withdrawn automatically from your salary, but you receive no union representation or health care is offered while being employed part time with this state.

    If your a vet especially someone attending college in the state of Michigan, avoid at all costs getting involved with the state while your attending. It will come back to haunt you later.

  3. Benjamin,
    I “completed” the Ch. 31 Program and I was considered to have found “suitable Employment” and my case closed even though my employment fit my category in what I was training for but went completely against what the VA Dr’s have stated for my disability. I am not allowed to be on my feet for more than 2 hrs. a day and I can not lift over 15 Lbs.
    My job was standing and moving all day long working on assemblies that weighed 25 Lbs. or more. I knew this was against my requirements as stated for my disability but after leaving college with two certificates, I was barely scraping by on my 20% from 9/11 to 1/12 when this company offered me a job. when you are living on (the old rate) $251/mo. you take the first job and keep looking for a job that “fits” within what you are supposed to do.
    I worked at that factory for 16 months as a temporary employee and then the work dried up and many of us temps were laid off (with no chance of returning). After I had been there they (the VA) sent me a letter stating I had found “suitable Employment” and my case was being closed. They had no idea or even checked to see is I was employed in “Suitable employment” because they would have known I had not. I was laid off in 6/13 and have been laid off, out of workup to this day. I am getting $162/wk. unemployment plus my $255/mo. disability. The VA does not care.

    1. Randy,

      Not sure which state you reside in, however all states have Veteran Employment Reps at the One Stops. Recommend you locate the one nearest you and contact the reps. I work with veterans both in and out of Voc Rehab, and while it’s not always easy, we continue to assist until you have found suitable employment. Don’t delay but call today.
      Good luck!

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