Will Vocational Rehabilitation Pay For Flight School?

I received the following correspondence today from a disabled veteran. He was told anyone claiming that VA Vocational Rehabilitation will pay for commercial flight school is a liar. Congress does allow disabled veterans on Voc Rehab complete flight school so long as it is a part of a degree program. This specifically means the flight training, costing around $130,000, must be necessary for the degree completions approved by the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. However, Voc Rehab has and does approve commercial flight training. One needs look no further than Greg Modica’s case profiled by CBS Evening News:

Greg Modica, the former Army veteran who was told he could go on Oprah, has also been well treated, but with even added attention. He is very close to completing flight school. In his case, the VA admits his counselor made the Oprah comment, but insists the remark was intended in a helpful way. The VA also denies that Greg was denied flight training during that first interview. However, because Greg took such detailed notes, and because the VA moved quickly to help Greg and assign a new counselor after being challenged by Congressman Ross — frankly, we believe the veteran here. Greg took the Oprah comment as a belittling insult.

I know Greg personally. He was approved for Commercial Flight Training in order to complete his undergraduate degree, after much wrangling with Voc Rehab.

Here is a letter from Tom, my response to him, and his follow-up questions, in order:

I was told today, just two hours ago that the Voc Rehab will NOT pay for Commercial flight school. In fact the Voc Rehab counselor said” that who ever wrote that is a liar” What can I do? He suggested that I use the G.I. Bill, but that only covers so much. Any suggestions?

Hi Tom,

It would appear your counselor is mistaken. A quick search through VA Board of Appeals cases will render numerous situations where the veteran has appealed some denial involving flight school. Plus, I have a buddy of mine who is doing it right now.

In addition, 38 CFR Part 21.134specifically talks about flight school:

§ 21.134 Limitation on flight training.

Flight Training approved under Chapter 31 may only be authorized in degree curriculums in the field of aviation that include required flight training. This type of training is otherwise subject to the same limitations as are applicable to flight training under Chapter 30.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3680A(b))

Since this regulation was written by Congress, I think it’s pretty clear that Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment DOES pay for flight school so long as it is part of a degree seeking program.


So this means I can go to ATP (Airline Transport Professionals) or Phoenix East Aviation Inc. to become a commercial airline pilot, or does this mean that I have to go to some University that has flight training as part of it’s curriculum but is not set up for someone who wants to become a commercial airline pilot?

Also, where and how do I get this appealed? I firmly believe that the Voc Rehab her does not want to help. Is there a hotline or group that could help with my case. I am even still having to pay for my service connected medication. You serve your country and you get treated like second-class citizens, thank God for people like you!

So, to Tom’s new questions, Voc Rehab will not approve training that is not part of a degree-seeking program. While the aviation hours can be contracted for by a private company for completion, the hours must be required by your Voc Rehab training plan and the degree program you are seeking. They tried to push Greg into getting only the required hours for Flight Instructor, despite his original goal being to get entry-level employment as an Airline Pilot. This is better than even a commercial pilot because it requires extra hours.

Here is part of another explanation:

§ 21.4235   Programs of education that include flight training.

VA will use the provisions of this section to determine whether an individual may be paid educational assistance for pursuit of flight training. See §21.4263 for approval of flight courses for VA training.

(a) Eligibility. A veteran or servicemember who is otherwise eligible to receive educational assistance under 38 U.S.C. chapter 30 or 32, or a reservist who is eligible for expanded benefits under 10 U.S.C. chapter 1606 as provided in §21.7540(b), may receive educational assistance for flight training in an approved course provided that the individual meets the requirements of this paragraph. Except when enrolled in a ground instructor certification course or when pursuing flight training under paragraph (f) of this section, the individual must—

(1) Possess a valid private pilot certificate or higher pilot certificate such as a commercial pilot certificate;

(2) If enrolled in a course other than an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) course, hold a second-class medical certificate on the first day of training and, if that course began before October 1, 1998, hold that certificate continuously during training; and

(3) If enrolled in an ATP certification course, hold a first-class medical certificate on the first day of training and, if that course began before October 1, 1998, hold that certificate continuously during training.

(Authority: 10 U.S.C. 16136(c); 38 U.S.C. 3034(d), 3241(b))

How do you appeal? Well, first VA Voc Rehab must make a decision. It is likely here that the counselor is only pushing back on Tom’s plan. If Tom does some research and asserts his position in a professional manner that is supported by regulations, he might get be approved, eventually. One never knows with this program. The best advice is to talk to a Veterans Service Officer or lawyer specializing in veterans benefits.


Email questions to: [email protected].

After further research, I came across Clarke v. Brown 10 Vet.App. 20. The citation means it’s from the United States Court of Veterans Appeals. This case fully discusses the issue of veterans seeking flight school through VA Voc Rehab and why they do not allow training through nondegree programs:

Unlike vocational rehabilitation flight training, Congress ended all VA education benefits for the pursuit of flight training in 1981 because of perceived program abuse. See Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, Pub.L. 97-35, § 2003, 95 Stat. 357, 782; See also 134 CONG. REC. S16524-01 (1988) (statement by Sen. Daschle). Although Congress later restored education benefits for flight training, it did so gradually and with safeguards intended to eliminate past abuse. 134CONG. REC. S16524-01 (1988); see also S.Rep. No. 126, 101st Cong., 1st. Sess. 248 reprinted in 1989 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1469, 1654. Included in such safeguards was the requirement that there be approval by both the FAA and the state approving agency. See Veteran’s Education and Employment Programs, Pub.L. No. 102-16, 105 Stat. 51 (1991). Moreover, education benefits for flight training under chapters 30 and 32 were restored without the degree curriculum requirement only as a test program in order to monitor for continuing abuse. Cf. 134 CONG. REC. S16524-01 (Senator Daschle’s statement that educational assistance for flight training under the GI bill is to be reinstated as a four-year test program).

Given the differences inherent in the purposes of the education and vocational rehabilitation programs, the Court concludes that there is a rational basis for 38 C.F.R. § 21.134. As the Secretary argues, it was appropriate for Congress to determine if past abuse of flight training benefits would be less likely for certain programs. As a result, less stringent requirements for veterans receiving flight training under chapters 30 and 32 are rationally related to the government’s stated objective. Congress is neither required to make all benefits available to all classifications of veterans nor must it expose all programs to potential abuse at the same time in order to test the efficacy of new or revised programs. Moreover, the requirement that flight training under chapter 31 must be part of a degree curriculum is rationally related to the government’s purpose for vocational rehabilitation benefits, i.e., “[t]o become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.” 38 U.S.C. § 3100.

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  2. Anything operated, offered or facilitated by the government will fail. ESPECIALLY now! Show me a successful and profitable government operation and I’ll show you a happy and healthy disabled veteran.

  3. Several veterans have inquired about getting flight training here at Wild Blue Aviation. I’ve been unable to obtain info needed. HELP!

  4. The va and voc rehab is nothing more than a government scam to make us feel like were getting something in return for our injuires sustained during our time in service. They say they’ll help with employment but when you request to go to flight school the request is denied because “it cost too much”. Are you serious!!?! The government doesn’t give a damn about how much money it spends, they sound $500,000+ for ONE cruise missle, yet they won’t pay $60,000 to put someone on a career path of being a commercial pilot where you could easily make six figures a year. I’m disgusted with both the va and the voc rehab programs, I would bet most of your career counselors are not even veterans, as mine is not.

    1. I agree 100%!! All of these so-called “programs and organizations” came about so we, the disabled vet’ would not feel like those who returned from Vietnam. It is all a sham, scam and any other word you can think of. I have spent 3 years now attempting to have an ADA equipped bath added to my house. What a JOKE! And the VA employees are PATHETIC. They wouldn’t lift their pinkie finger for you. All they care about is a paycheck. They are FAT, LAZY BASTARDS!! You, the vet, either do all the work, or you the vet, don’t get nothing. I should feel like I want to travel 2 hours to therapy and talk to a shrink for 45 minutes? Sorry, but it should NOT work like that. THEY, the VA, should come to MY HOUSE and offer me therapy. Do you REALLY think I want to travel 2 hours to talk to a shrink!!?? Anything having to do or operated by the government will fail or is a lie. Simple as that. And all of these run-of-the-mill groups popping up left and right claiming they can help you. All the help they provide is a government-funded GRANT for THEIR pockets! Anyone want to start a new non-profit? We’ll call it AID 4 ME.

  5. I tried to enter flight school and was denied.(ST.LOUIS) They said that i did not agree to get a degree.But i did,they lied on the appeal response. Appeal could take 5 years! I talked to the recepcianist at the VA,he said that he herd the councilers discussing my case about flight training.He also stated that they said it costs to much.

  6. I am trying to use Chapter 31-Vocational Rehabilitation to obtain a type rating on a Hawker 900 through Flight Safety International. This is a V.A. approved course. It allows you to receive a completion certificate, and it has a V.A. approved cirriculum. If 21.134 says that all the other usual prescriptions apply from the other educational programs such as 21.4235, would that make me eligible to use Voc Rehab to achieve a type rating. I have a Bachelors Degree from Embry-Riddle, but have completely fallen out of certification since the economy crash. I have a written letter of “Intent to Hire” from a company and would immediately be placed into the job market upon completion of the Hawker course.

    I am a 10% disabled veteran and it states from a pamphlet received from the Voc Rehab office, that a 10% disabled veteran must have a Serious Employment Handicap” or SEH. A serious employment handicap states that a veteran must have an impairment to “prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes, and interests”. Also, under the Rapid Access Self-employment section of the same pamphlet, it states that they provide “short-term training certificates”. So the question I have is: After taking all this into consideration, could I be eligible for the Voc Rehab program since Flight Safety only provides a Certificate of Completion? Thanks.

    Scooter B.

  7. I am a Voc Rehab Student and have just enrolled in a BS Aviation degree plan. I am pursuing Aviation Administration because my counselor said the VA is no longer paying for career pilot flight training due to costs. I wanted to pursue the career pilot degree plan but I kept getting a “no” but the Aviation Administration with my university has private pilot and instrument rating as part of the curicullum and my counselor said they would do that. I also qualify for the Pell Grant so I plan to use that to further my ratings because both the comercial and CFI ratings are also offered within the degree electives.

    I am hoping it works out as I am anticipating. I would have preferred the Career Pilot with focus on flight instruction or ATP so I could have more opportunities built into the degree plan but I think the Pell Grant will assist me financially where the VA Chapter 31 program can’t.

    I look forward to hearing about your results. I have been trying to get this set up and approved since October, 2010 and just finished my enrollment. Be proactive! You have to be willing to do the research.

  8. I am also trying to figure out how to get pilot training through voc rehab. I currently have been receiving benefits for about 2 years in hopes of getting better employment. Problem is that over the last year, the disabilities have been getting worse and are beliefed to be directly job related. SO I start to look at other careers I would enjoy.

    VA tells me NO WAY. Now I read, there is a way, or at least I think that is what I am reading. I have found a school that offers a AA program – Professional Helicopter Pilot, certifying students through CFI.

    My question is does that qualify under the guidelines ??

  9. Ben, what I read from 21.4235 is that if you are enrolled at an institution of higher learning, and enrolled in a degree curriculum, and that degree plan requires flight training, and that training leads to a recreational or Private license, and THAT training in turn leads to a degree, then we should get our funding.

    I was approved last year for a degree plan in Pilot Development that requires Private Flight, with NO mention of a Private license. Then all of a sudden in was jerked out from under me. What gives?????

    If I had my Private, and had to go through Private flight again???? That’s a waste of money, which I know the government cares nothing about. But if you have to pay for it while I possess the Private…..why not pay for it without a Private……..I have to go through it anyway, it’s required…….no exemptions.

  10. I’m trying to understand this. I’m trying to get the voc rehab set up. I’m currently already enrolled at Spartan college of aeronautics and having to pay out of pocket. What exactly do I need to do to get the ball rolling. I’ve already spoken to my counselor once. He’s currently trying to put my case off saying that my disabilities are too much for me to be a pilot or at least that’s what it send like. What should I do?

    1. I don’t know the particulars of the situation. I do know there is a requirement per the regs to get a special type of physical. Read the regs cited in the article.

  11. That’s really up to your counselor. Basically, the college or university must be accredited. From what I’ve been told, counselors are pushing for Flight Instructor as the goal versus ATP. Then, the veteran will need a few years of stick time after training to get enough hours to qualify for ATP, so I’m told. Again, you’ll need to pay for the Private Pilot’s License on your own, per the regulation.

    If you feel your closed case was incorrect, you should talk with them about reopening your case. Or contact your Veteran Service Officer. Your limitation on filing an appeal is 1 year on most VA decisions.

    Feel free to email me directly. This forum can get a little lengthy: [email protected].

  12. ATP offers a Bachelor of Science in Airline Transport Professional Pilot Operations. Would this count?

  13. Could it be an Associate’s degree in Aviation or does it have to be a Bachelor’s degree?

  14. 21.134 says you can only use VA Voc Rehab to get your Commercial Pilot’s license if it’s part of a degree granting program – ie University/College degree program. Then, it goes on to say all the other usual prescriptions apply from the other educational programs – 21.4235. I have it linked above for readers to link to the entire regulations. What I have posted is just a snippet of the full regulation.

  15. So, correct me if I am wrong, but the 38 C.F.R. § 21.134. means that I will not be able to recieve Vocrehab to become a Commercial pilot?

  16. Atp has a program that is called from zero time to career pilot, basically you get your private liscense at the begining of the course, would this stop me? Also could you give me some insight into what the requisite medical certification is? Thanks as always.

  17. One thing to note, the requirement for approval of flight school is to already possess your private pilot’s license and the requisite medial certification.

  18. Ben, So I presume that being 30% service connected disabled and having an official letter from my operations supervisor at my work stating that I can not perform the tasks at work, where as a business manager I am required to be on my feet eight hours of the day. I also looked into some of the other parts that the VocRehab was supposed to help me out with such as:
    Employment services such as job-seeking skills, resume development, and other work readiness assistance.
    * Assistance finding and keeping a job, including the use of special employer incentives.
    * On the Job Training (OJT), apprenticeships, and non-paid work experiences.
    * Financial assistance for post-secondary training at a college, vocational, technical or business school.
    * Supportive rehabilitation services including case management, counseling, and referral.
    * Independent living services.
    I had to pawn my watch, wedding band, my wife’s wedding band and live off credit cards for five months until I took a minimum wage job at a call center, just to feed my family. Then what did the VocRehab do, they said I had found work and my case was closed. I will not stop pursuing this airline pilot career until justice is served. Who do I need to contact to get things moving? I will take this to the press, the courts or who ever, Thanks again for your help, it is always a comfort to know that someone out there cares about us veterans.

  19. Here is what the Voc Rehab counselor said:Thomas,

    I informed you of this. We can authorize flight school if it is part of a required curriculum, but we cannot support the goal of commercial pilot.
    My answer: Jim, could you give me more detail of what you mean by part of the curriculm. Because The two schools I am looking at have a curriculm through an acredditated university. So I could pursue a degree or associates degree while pursusing the flight school?
    His answer: Thomas,

    What is meant is that you must be in a course of study that requires you to have flight training such as Airport Management.
    The regulations are very specific that we cannot pay for flight training just for a pilot’s license or to the end goal of commercial pilot.

    If you need our services, the first step is to apply to have your prior rehabilitation overturned. That in itself is a big step. You must show that your disabilities have gotten worse. If your disabilities have gotten worse, then you may not be suitable for anything that is as demanding as flight training.


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