I recently snagged this VA Voc Rehab FAQs sheet from the local VA Vocational Rehabilitation office here in St. Paul that is chalk full of questionable claims and legal angling - one of which is patently false. It is actually called a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) sheet, but it actually serves as a facts sheet when veterans read it. After reading the sheet, and watching their infamous Intro to Vocational Rehabilitation video, I thought it was high time to circle back around to see what you all think by posting the full document below. VA Voc Rehab is well known for its lack of transparency when it comes to learning about your benefits beyond the basics. Some counselors are great, but there are still many within the agency who refuse to fulfill the true purpose of the program - to help a veteran become as independent as possible and as successful as possible in employment. They instead claim they have a mandate to get you back to work as quickly and cheaply as possible, which is a claim written no where in the actual law. According to VA Voc Rehab officials I have talked to in DC, the agency believes that a disabled veteran would likely manipulate the facts of the veteran's case if the veteran knows the full scope of the benefit up front. You read that right -- in a country where criminals are innocent before proven guilty, VA has already concluded many disabled veterans will lie and therefore cannot be trusted with the truth up front -- Instead, the Voc Rehab Counselor is to serve as the equivalent of a "gatekeeper" to answer the veteran's questions with cryptic responses that evade legal meaning. Countless veterans have emailed me through the years for input about obvious issues when they get stonewalled by their counselor about simple questions like, "Will VR&E buy me a computer?" Veterans usually get this response, "It depends on if you can prove it is required for college." In this day and age of technology dependence, that question is almost as ridiculous as asking a veteran to prove that water is wet. Duh, college and training of any kind is so technology dependent that no one can get by without a computer. However, VR&E would rather pretend we live in the stone ages unless you know the secret words. So, I think it is time we start breaking down those walls and call out the "gatekeepers" of VA as the power made bean-counters they truly are. At least some counselors in VBA are not functioning like they should and in accordance with CRC Ethics Rules. Until they do so, some VA Voc Rehab Counselors will remain mere bean-counters rather than partners in your rehabilitation. One qualifier, the VA Voc Rehab program has some amazing counselors in it. Many veterans, including Senator Jim Webb, have done great things after using the program. Sadly, these successes are not a universal norm, and posts like this one are aimed at increasing accountability and success in VA Voc Rehab. Veterans need all the help they can get to maximize their benefits, not fight through bureaucratic red tape. For example, the program paid for my law school and my undergraduate education, but not without a major fight that included CBS Evening News interrogating VA about problems I was facing at the time. My initial counselor told me VA Voc Rehab will not pay for law school. Another counselor told me VA Voc Rehab will not pay for grad school. Now that I am an attorney and have written a book on the subject, countless veterans who read the book, Voc Rehab Survival Guide for Veterans, have thanked me for the book helping them get VA Voc Rehab approval for law school, medical school, business school, and more. Should it really take a book written by a non-VA employee to get the truth? Take a look at this handout from VR&E below. It is the "Frequently asked questions" Voc Rehab Counselors hand out to curious disabled veterans. What do you think the sheet is missing as far as REAL FACTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW? There is some questionable claims in there, and I will circle back around on Thursday to call out the biggest false claim.
[Download the VR&E FAQs Document here.]Here is VA's FAQs sheet I converted to HTML: Frequently asked questions
What is vocational rehabilitation?Vocational rehabilitation refers to all services provided to restore the eligible veteran to employment or increase his or her independence in daily living.
How do I qualify for vocational rehabilitation?The entitlement determination is an individualized decision, however, there are a couple of guiding principles applicable to every case:
- Have you been or will you be discharged under honorable conditions with a service-connected disability?
- Does the service-connected disability substantially contribute to an employment handicap? That is, are rehabilitation services necessary to restore you to suitable gainful employment; or, if employment is jeopardized, maintain that employment?
It appears I'm entitled - what am I entitled to?That is dependent upon what services you need to return to or maintain employment. Rehabilitation services can include direct placement assistance, job site modifications, skill training, medical services, etc.
Who decides if I'm entitled and to what?A Department of Veterans Affairs Counseling Psychologist or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor will review your situation and make the entitlement determination. If entitled, the evaluation will continue to identify a suitable vocational goal and the services required to obtain that goal. Our mandate is to restore the entitled veteran back into the workforce as soon as possible. In all cases we rule out direct placement services prior to considering skill training.
What do you mean by "Suitable Employment"?Suitable employment is a term meaning entry level employment which is not inconsistent with your general pattern of interests, aptitudes, and abilities; is not contra-indicated by your service-connected or non service-connected conditions; and is generally available in the area you live.
What?Is it a real job not jeopardized by your service and non service-connected disabilities?
I have some post high school training but feel I need more to advance or change jobs. Can vocational rehabilitation help me?First we have to establish if rehab services are necessary. Is your current job unsuitable or jeopardized? If not, then you would not be entitled to vocational rehabilitation services at this time. If so, we would analyze what skills and training you bring to the job market and, if sufficient, assist you in marketing those skills to a suitable position. If additional skills need to be developed, a goal would be agreed upon and a plan of services developed leading to that goal.
My disability is so severe, I don't think I can return to employment. What can vocational rehabilitation do for me?First of all, apply. We can do extraordinary things to assist the most severely disabled veterans become gainfully employed. If, however, employment is not reasonably feasible, there are many services we can provide to help you become more independent in your daily living.
What is the process?Upon receipt of your application for vocational rehabilitation and confirmation that your are an honorably discharged veteran with a service connected disability, you will be scheduled for evaluation and assessment services, either with a VA employee or a rehabilitation professional under contract to the VA. The evaluation will consist of your history; assessment of your aptitudes, interests, and abilities; your current state of job readiness; and limitations imposed by your service and non service-connected disabilities. A report is prepared and reviewed by a VA rehabilitation counselor who then makes the entitlement determination. If entitled, additional counseling is provided to assist in identifying an appropriate goal and developing a plan of services to achieve that goal.
How long does this take?Assuming that a rating has been made on your service-connected disability, you should receive an appointment within 30 days of your application. You should receive a decision concerning entitlement within two months of your first appointment.
But I want to start school now - can't I expedite this?Only if we bumped some other disabled veteran. Also, even if entitled, schooling may not be the required rehabilitative service. Unless you have other funding available, do not start a program assuming it will be covered by vocational rehabilitation. You must be careful - remember, we can't train you for an unsuitable vocation nor provide training services if you are already qualified for suitable employment.
What effect does all this have on my disability rating?None. Participation in a vocational rehabilitation program will not trigger any rating action, nor does the percentage of your rating.
Benjamin Krause is an award winning investigative journalist, attorney, and disabled veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in its Special Operations Command. He wrote his guide, the Voc Rehab Survival Guide for Veterans, after winning his long fight for benefits against VA to help other veterans do the same. Benjamin is a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota Law School using VA Vocational Rehabilitation.