Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E), aka “Voc Rehab” is available for veterans and servicemembers with service-connected disabilities and need help with employment. The Voc Rehab program is implemented in Chapter 31 of Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, so the benefits are also sometimes referred to as “Chapter 31” benefits.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers vocational education, training, and counseling to eligible military members who are currently serving, retired or separated from the military. This benefit is not specifically aimed at those who are transitioning from a military career to a civilian one; instead it is intended to be career help, and a way to make the most of VA benefits. This help is part of the VA’s Education and Career Counseling program, and is available to qualified veterans and those currently serving who meet the criteria.
A VR & E subsistence allowance is also paid each month and is based on the rate of attendance (full-time or part-time), the number of dependents, and the type of training.
VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Training Benefits
- Medical evaluations and psychological assessments which measure the individual’s skills, abilities, and needs
- Financial assistance for post-secondary training
- On the job training (OJT), internships, apprenticeships, volunteer work
- Vocational Counseling
- Job Placement and Coaching
- Assistive Technology and Aids
- Medical and Psychological Treatment
- Resume Writing
- Independent living services for Veterans unable to work due to the severity of their disabilities
- Remotely-delivered/online counseling options (see below)
VA Vocational Rehab Options Online
There are plenty of in-person counseling opportunities, but what about veterans who live far from the centers where vocational rehab services are offered? In 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs began promoting tele-counseling options, which are available via “any web-enabled device with a webcam and microphone,” including smartphones and tablets. VA tele-counseling is offered with no need for special software or new accounts; access to individual counseling sessions is provided through a secure link.
VA literature emphasizes that tele-counseling is made available to reduce travel costs, time spent in transit, and the feature is not mandatory. If you require remote services, contact your VR&E counselor as soon as possible to make arrangements.
The Advent Of e-VA
In early 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs began pilot testing a program called e-VA. VR&E enrollees were notified about the virtual electronic assistant program, described by the VA as “an artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant” that can be used to help schedule appointments, communicate with Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment counselors, and submit documentation in a safe and secure manner.
The initial pilot program was created for a six-week run in locations including the VA regional offices in:
A wider, nationwide version of the pilot was scheduled to be unveiled in Summer of 2020. Some VR&E participants who choose to participate in the pilot program were advised they may need to sign up twice; once for the pilot and a second time for the full-blown national version.
How e-VA Works
You must first be enrolled in VR&E. Once that is established, veterans will be sent a text message or e-mail introducing you to the program and the e-VA virtual assistant. Most importantly this message will also ask you to opt in.
This program is optional, so those who choose not to respond or use the service may do so. Those who choose to participate can start using e-VA services immediately but you must choose to do so, the program does not automatically include you.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to send you appointment reminders and other updates. According to the VA official site, “While e-VA is available via text messaging and/or email, your VR&E counselor is still available to assist you in person,” and also via phone or tele-counseling.
VOC Rehab Eligibility
- Veterans with a VA service-connected disability rating of at least 20% with an employment handicap OR
- Rated 10% with a serious employment handicap, and discharged or released from military service under other than dishonorable conditions;
- Transitioning Servicemembers within six months prior to discharge from active duty.
- Veterans within one year following discharge from active duty.
- Any Servicemember/Veteran currently eligible for a VA education benefit.
- All current VA education beneficiaries.
Period of Eligibility
- Date of separation from active military service, or
- Date the Veteran was first notified by VA of a service-connected disability rating.
The 12 year eligibility period can be extended if certain conditions prevented the claimant from participating in the program or if a serious employment handicap exists.
What is an Entitlement Determination?
A Veterans Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) works with veterans to complete a determination if an employment handicap exists. An employment handicap exists if the Veteran’s service connected disability impairs his/her ability to obtain and maintain a job.
What is VOC Rehab?
Vocational Rehabilitation is short for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E), and is a federal-state program designed to assist individuals who have physical or cognitive disabilities find and/or sustain employment. It is commonly referred to as Chapter-31 or Voc Rehab. When pertaining to military veterans, the program is intended to help those veterans who have “service connected disabilities” and “employment handicaps.”
In order for a service member to have what is known as a “service connected disability,” an injury or illness must have been incurred or aggravated during active military service. The service member must also be able to show by evidence that they indeed have an injury or illness and that it is directly connected to military service. A nexus letter from a doctor is often very helpful in showing this important link.
“Employment Handicaps” is defined by the VA as, “A veteran’s ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes, and interests if the impairment results in substantial part from a service-connected disability.” Further, the impairment must be strongly linked with a service-connected disability.
For those who have a severe disability, Voc Rehab’s goal is to aid and to strengthen the individual’s ability to live an independent lifestyle.
Those who meet one or more of the requirements above should apply electronically at the eBenefits portal run by the Department of Veterans Affairs or fill out VA Form 28-8832 which is available as a downloadable pdf from the VA official site.
Those who choose to apply with the VA form will need to send or take the completed paperwork to the nearest VA regional office marked “Attention: Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment” in the address. You can locate the nearest VA regional office through the VA official site
After your paperwork has been reviewed and approved, you’ll be invited to an orientation session at the VA regional office where you will learn about programs that can help in the following areas, as described on the VA official site:
- Career Choice – understand the best career options for you based on your interests and capabilities
- Benefits Coaching – guidance on the effective use of your VA benefits and/or other resources to achieve your education and career goals
- Personalized Support – Academic or adjustment counseling and personalized support to help you remove any barriers to your success
If you are currently serving at an overseas military assignment, your access to some programs may be determined by availability at the local level, but depending on the program you may have the ability to participate in online sessions or “distance learning” type programs.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News