The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation program is designed to help a service-disabled veteran overcome employment handicaps imposed by such disability, so that the veteran is able to find and keep suitable employment as well as to achieve maximum independence in daily living.
The primary goal of the program is to train disabled veterans for appropriate employment; although education benefits for school attendance may be authorized if that is determined to be the best way to prepare a particular veteran for entry or re-entry into the labor force, Vocational Rehabilitation benefits must not be viewed as a supplement to or a substitute or replacement for VA education assistance benefits available under other programs.
Eligibility for and entitlement to Vocational Rehabilitation requires that a veteran have service-connected disability or disabilities ratable at 20% or more, and have an employment handicap resulting primarily from such disability. A veteran with a 10% service-connected disability (including multiple noncompensable conditions for which compensation at the 10% rate is paid) may also qualify, on a showing that such disability produces a “serious” employment handicap.
The period of eligibility is 12 years from date of discharge or 12 years from the date VA first notifies the veteran of a qualifying service-connected disability, whichever is later. This may be extended for severely disabled veterans who are unable to begin or complete their program within that time because of their disability, or who are determined to have a severe employment handicap such that they require additional time for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation services may continue until the veteran has reached his or her rehabilitation goal, but the education or training portion of a rehabilitation program may not exceed 48 months, except under exceptional circumstances.
VA may continue to provide counseling, job-placement, and post-employment services for up to 18 additional months. Veterans in a Vocational Rehabilitation program of education or training who are also eligible for benefits under one or another VA education and training assistance programs must elect from which program they will draw benefits; concurrent benefits may not be paid under more than one program for the same course of education or training. When an application is received and it is established that a qualifying degree of disability is present, the applicant will be given counseling, testing and evaluation to determine whether an employment handicap exists, and if so, whether training and/or rehabilitation services are feasible or necessary.
Rehabilitation programs may include employment (including self-employment) services and assistance; educational (college-level) or vocational (trade, business or technical school) training; apprenticeship or on-job training; or farm cooperative training.
For severely disabled veterans there may be training in a rehabilitation facility, in a sheltered workshop, or in-home; the program may also include independent living services and training. While in training the veteran will be paid a monthly subsistence allowance, varying according to the type and rate of training, the number of dependents, and other factors. In addition, VA will pay all training expenses, including tuition, fees, books and supplies, and the cost of any necessary tools, equipment, and uniforms.
The veteran is also entitled to any and all medical and dental treatment (or reimbursement for the cost of such treatment), including prosthetic devices or other special equipment and special restorative services, necessary to continue or complete his or her program.
When necessary, the veteran may be provided special help such as tutoring assistance, readers for the visually impaired, or sign language interpreters for the hearing impaired. If the veteran encounters unexpected financial difficulties while training, a no-interest loan service is available.
VA provides counseling services, including educational, vocational, personal and employment counseling are available, as well as career planning and job placement services. A veteran who is rated as totally disabled because of individual unemployability may apply for and pursue a program of Vocational Rehabilitation without jeopardizing the total disability rating. Even if the veteran is then rehabilitated and able to obtain employment, the total disability rating will continue undisturbed for a minimum of 12 months so the veteran can demonstrate that he or she is able to maintain substantially gainful employment, and is no longer unemployable.