I just want to clear up some of the misconceptions I see some people commenting about VR&E.
-1. Myth: You have to have a VA disability rating of 30% or higher.
Fact: There has never been a 30% or higher requirement. The law and VA regulations state that a veteran with a rating of 10% or higher is eligible to apply for VR&E. For those with a 10% rating, VA has to determine if that veteran's disability constitutes a Serious Employment Handicap. Those with a 20% or higher VA disability rating are eligible to apply just by having the disability rating.
-2. Myth: You have to have at least one day of Post 9/11 GI Bill to be eligible for VR&E.
Fact: No, there has never been a requirement to be eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill or any other GI Bill to be eligible for VR&E. VR&E has existed since 1944. Post 9/11 GI Bill wasn't created until 2008 – so veterans used VR&E for quite a few years prior to Post 9/11 GI Bill even being created.
Fact: After the Post 9/11 GI Bill was created, many veterans left VR&E because the Post 9/11 GI Bill paid a much higher monthly stipend than VR&E was authorized to pay. So VA requested congress to authorize them to pay veterans in VR&E an equal amount of monthly stipend. Congress passed a law allowing veterans who are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill to be paid the P9/11 Subsistence Allowance which is based on the BAH paid to an E5 with dependents starting 1 August 2011. This is not BAH and is not under the same rules as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
FACT: Those not eligible to be paid the P9/11SA will be paid the CH31SA. Those who have exhausted all 36 months of their Post 9/11 GI Bill will be paid the CH31SA. Those who are past their 15 year delimiting date to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill (separated prior to 1 January 2013) will be paid the CH31SA – even if they have unused Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement.
-3. Myth: You have to be unemployed to apply for VR&E.
Fact: Many veterans are working full time jobs when they apply for VR&E. Many veterans continue to work part time or full time while in VR&E. VA knows veterans have bills to pay and families to feed – so have no problem with the veteran being employed as long as that job doesn't interfere with the veteran being successful in the VR&E program.
-4. Myth: VR&E is another free education program to supplement veterans who have used up their GI Bill.
Fact: VR&E is not an education program. VR&E is first and foremost an Employment Program. There are four Employment Tracks – only one Track pays a veteran to attend training. That training can be college or trade school or certification programs – any type of training to make the veteran employable within the limitations imposed by their disabilities. The other three Tracks assist veterans in finding jobs who don't need additional training to become employable. There is also a fifth Track for those who are unemployable but need assistance – the Independent Living Services Track.
-5. Myth: I'm a disabled veteran so I'm Entitled to use this program – it's my right, etc.
Fact: Having a VA disability rating makes a veteran eligible to apply – only. Nothing in your enlistment contract or any law guarantees you the right to use VR&E for any of the five Tracks.
Fact: After you apply, VA determines your eligibility and assigns you to a Case Manager. The Case Manager determines if you have an Employment Handicap. Without an Employment Handicap, you are not entitled to any services within the VR&E program.
FACT: In 2020, 96,957 veterans applied for VR&E, 68,216 were found eligible but only 38,903 were found entitled. So approx. 40% of those who applied in 2020 were found entitled to VR&E services. That doesn't mean 40% were eligible for free training – just entitled to use one of the five Tracks of VR&E. The 2021 statistics haven't been released yet.
-6. Myth: Using VR&E uses up your GI Bill. 2nd related Myth: You are using your Post 9/11 GI Bill and VR&E at the same time – that's why you get paid the MHA/BAH. (see 2 above).
Fact: A law says that a veteran can use up to 48 months between 2 or more VA education programs. For years VA policy was to interpret this to mean between VR&E and your GI Bill, you could use up to 48 months. So any use of any GI Bill programs and VR&E would limit the numbers of months at veteran could use which would restrict your access to these programs. For example – I used VR&E from 2004 to 2007 – 36 months and 4 days. When Post 9/11 GI Bill was created, I applied and was awarded 11 months 26 days of Post 9/11 GI Bill – which gave me in total 48 months. So while I was eligible for 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill under the law, I was limited to 11 months 26 days by VA Policy/law. Those months were still there – I just wasn't allowed access to use them. (because I separated in 2004, I'm past the 15 year delimiting date in which to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill so even under the new VA policy, I still have no access to those months).
Fact: Under the current VA Policy (April 2021), using VR&E doesn't "use up" your GI Bill. So a veteran can use VR&E and all 36 months of their GI Bill under this new policy/interpretation of the law.
Fact: Use of your GI Bill does count against the possible up to 48 months of VR&E under the current Policy. So if you used 36 months of your GI Bill, you can be restricted to 12 months of VR&E.
Fact: If you were being paid the P9/11SA, none of your Post 9/11 GI Bill is used. Veterans don't think this through – if you started VR&E with only two months of Post 9/11 GI Bill remaining and your GI Bill was being used to pay the monthly SA, VR&E could then only pay you the P9/11SA for those two months and then could only pay you the CH31SA for your remaining time in VR&E. But VR&E can and does pay a veteran the P9/11SA for the entire time you are in the program even if you only have one day of the Post 9/11 GI Bill when you start using VR&E.
-7. Myth: You can pursue any degree you want and VA is screwing you if they don't approve what you want to do.
Fact: VR&E will not train you for any career that will make your disabilities worse. VR&E can't be used to get a higher education degree just to get promoted. The intent of the VR&E is to assist a disabled veteran in being employable within the limitations imposed by the veterans disabilities (employment handicap).
Fact: It doesn't matter what some other veteran was approved for. You and that other veteran don't have the exact same prior work history, prior education/training or the exact same disabilities. Your approval is based on your employment handicap only.
-8. Myth: VR&E can be used by every veteran for law school or medical school or a PhD, etc.
Fact: VR&E is limited to 48 months for those with an employment handicap. That doesn't mean a veteran will be allowed to use all 48 months – you can't complete one degree and say, I've got 24 months left so pay me to attend more college to use up those remaining 24 months. How many months of VR&E you will be allowed to use depends on the training program you are approved for. For VR&E to pay more than 48 months of benefits, VR&E has to determine you have a Serious Employment Handicap and the approval is not the local Case Manager – that local Case Manager has to put together a packet for higher level approval to approve a veteran for a program that will need more than 48 months of entitlement. VR&E not the veteran makes this determination.
-9. Myth. VR&E has to pay for any school I want to attend no matter how much it costs.
Fact: The cost of your education program includes not just tuition but fees, the monthly subsistence allowance and books/supplies. Within VR&E there are different approval levels required to approve the costs of the veterans education. So if the cost of the school you want to attend is higher than the local case manager can approve, they have to submit a packet to a higher level of authority to approve the veteran attend that school.
The current VR&E regulation/manual is the M28-C. This replaced the M28-R 3 years ago. So always use the current regulation/manual to research/find current up-to-date information on the rules. Policies change all the time – so you need to use the current policies to understand the program.
VR&E, under current policy, should be used before you use your GI Bill. This gives the veteran the maximum benefits. But this is not possible for many newly separated veterans. This is because the veteran must have a VA disability rating before they can even apply for VR&E. In 2020 98,957 veterans applied but only 68,216 were eligible to apply – so 30,741 veterans applied who didn't have a VA disability rating so were found not eligible. Many veterans start college as soon as they separate from the military using their GI Bill. There is nothing wrong with doing so – just apply for VR&E once you do have your VA disability rating.
Once you submit the application online at va.gov for VR&E, your application is reviewed for eligibility. Once you are found eligible, your case is assigned to a Regional Office. That RO then assigns your case to a specific VR&E Case Manager. That Case Manger then schedules you for an Orientation Appointment. Some RO's do group orientations while others do individual orientations. Many RO's have switched to doing the Orientation Appointments through video/audio means such as zoom or other software programs or by phone because of COVID restrictions with the Case Managers working from home or to restrict traffic in the local office.
No matter what format the Orientation Appointment is conducted in – you need to be prepared. Treat this appointment as a Job Interview – dress accordingly – business casual is recommended. Don't be like a friend of mine who decided to show up for his appointment in July right after mowing the grass in a raggedy dirty t-shirt and cut-off jean shorts and without taking a shower – he was mad that he wasn't approve at that appointment – I was embarrassed he showed up like that – he was able to apply a few months later and get approved – because the second time he was prepared and treated the appointment like a job interview.
VR&E is an employment program – don't go to the orientation appointment and make statements like I just need VA to pay for two more semesters to complete my degree or I need an MBA to get promoted. Instead be prepared to explain how the degree will put you into a job you can work within the limitations imposed by your disabilities. Be prepared to explain how your disabilities affect you when you had a job or in your current job. This is the entire point of the program – to get you into a job you can work without making your disabilities worse. VR&E is not going to approve you for a degree that leads to a job that will make your disabilities worse. So you might want to be a nurse but your back injuries or knees don't allow you lift patients – so VR&E is not going to approve nursing school. Veterans try to justify this degree saying that they can just work a desk job – those desk jobs go to senior experienced nurses normally – not the fresh out of school nurse with no work experience. But there are other healthcare jobs you may qualify for. So be open to other types of work. You have to sell yourself and your career plan to that VR&E case manager. Do research on the career field you want training in – what education is required – what are the physical demands of that job. Find job listings showing you need this specific degree. VR&E won't approve you for a career there is no jobs available. One of the questions you will be asked is if you would be willing to relocate for a job. I've seen veterans disapproved just because they wanted to be trained in a career field that had zero employment opportunities in their location but they didn't want to move because they had just purchased a house or didn't want their children to change schools.
Edit to add April 2021 VR&E Policy letter on 48 month law and retroactive induction – https://benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/docs/48_Month_Rule_FAQs.pdf
Edit to add: from r/silver25u VHA voc rehab counselor health care
Would also add:
Myth: VR&E is the only employment/VR program VA offers or VR&E doesn’t provide therapeutic services I need.
Fact: VA Medical Centers offer an array of therapeutic and supported employment and education services under several names: VR, Compensated Work Therapy, Transitional Work, Therapeutic Supported Employment, Employment Reentry Services, Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services. Services range from work therapy, job search assistance, career counseling/exploration, reasonable accommodation, and more.
Ask your primary care provider or mental health provider for a consult/referral to see what services are offered where you are.