Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ten Things the VA Doesn't Tell You about Voc Rehab

Voc Rehab is the abbreviated way of referring to Chapter 31 of the GI Bill, titled the Vocational, Rehabilitation, and Employment Program. The purpose of Voc Rehab is to educate disabled veterans so they can enter the workforce after they are honorably discharged. Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill, it is supposed to be tailored to help veterans who have been physically or mentally disabled due to the time that they spent serving in the military. Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it is very secretive.

Our efforts to secure funding for Clifton to attend college through Voc Rehab has been a fight in the dark. The VA has purposefully shielded information from disabled veterans by not having an useful website and telling disabled veterans misleading and ambiguous information. And because there are not many disabled veterans using Voc Rehab to attend college, there is not a demand for information like the other GI bills and thus not much information on non-government websites, like Military.com.


This is what the VA has told us or led us to understand, but we later discovered to not be true:

1. The VA tells you that you are entitled to four years of college. But you are not entitled, like the users of the Montgomery and Post-9/11 are entitled to three years of college. You are allowed four years to accomplish your degree plan. If you degree plan will only take you two years, you cannot take pottery classes, or try to start your master's degree,  those last two years of eligibility.


2. You are expected to choose the bare minimum that is required for you to obtain a job. We thought that if he is allowed four years, he should get a double major, minor, or start a master's degree, so that he is best prepared for the job market. That is not what the VA will allow. He is only allowed one major to obtain only a bachelor's degree.


3. You can't get approval for your degree plan from the VA office in the state that you are stationed. The VA office in the state that you are stationed can advise you and give you meaningless approval, but you ultimately need approval from your home state's VA office to receive funds. So, unless you are attending college in the same state that you left to attend basic training, your VA counselor is useless.


4. The VA says that fees are covered by Voc Rehab, but they don't explain the process. We are still not sure how exactly the process works, but we have learned that it is retroactive. Clifton has to pay the fee for his ACT scores and OU application, then submit a form for reimbursement with the receipts.


These are the things that we know we don't know and have been unable to find the answers, since the VA is not transparent about the Voc Rehab program to the very veterans it supposedly seeks to serve.


5. We still don't know the specifics of taking summer classes with Voc Rehab. When Clifton asked his VA Counselor how many classes he needed to take to be considered a full time student, she told him that information is for internal use only.


6. We still don't know exactly what help VETSUCCESS gives disabled veterans. We know VETSUCCESS is a program that partners the VA with the Labor Department to find jobs for disabled veterans. What that means on a practical level, besides providing veterans with two months of stipends after graduation, is a mystery.


7. We still don't know how much funds we will receive and exactly how we receive the funds. We assume that the tuition and fees will be paid directly to the college. We know we will receive a housing stipend based on our location, but how exactly do we get that stipend? We also heard there is a book stipend, but we don't know how much it is or how we get that stipend.


8. We still don’t know the exact process of receiving approval. There is no checklist of documents you need to have. There is no step-by-step guide to maneuver the VA labyrinth. There is no helpful veteran advocates. Everything feels like a neverending series of appointments, with no end in sight.


9. We still don’t know how to get appropriate equipment. The chapter says that you can request equipment that you need for your education, including a laptop. But we don’t know how to request a laptop for Clifton to use for school. When Clifton asked about the laptop, his VA Counselor was the definition of ambiguity.


10. We don’t know if we will be able to accomplish all that they want for us to accomplish in time for the summer session to start. With no real timeline and so many questions left unanswered and no one at the VA taking responsibility for helping disabled veterans, it will take many nights of prayer for us to see this momentous task accomplished.


I have written this information to help others who are going through this process and to reach out to those who may be able to provide us answers. If you are trying to figure out Voc Rehab, are taking classes with Voc Rehab, or are a veteran of the Voc Rehab program, please comment below and share your story.

 Are you keeping up with the Joneses? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn! Or by e-mail subscription or your favorite RSS Reader! Don't get left behind!

8 comments:

  1. If you've already gone through the process, then disregard all of this. If not then this may help a little:

    Have you considered getting a new VA counselor? It sounds like your local counselor either does not have the answers for you or does not want to give them to you. I'm in New York City and my counselor is very straightforward and efficient. If you really are not being helped, then work your way up the food chain until you receive a new counselor.

    To answer some of your questions, to be considered full-time in the summer, that would depend on the length of the summer session. I believe for a 4 week session, 3 credits is the minimum for full time and it goes up, the longer the term is. I'm sure someone could explain that better, though.

    As for requesting items, it really depends on what items he needs and if your counselor will have enough time to process the paperwork and get it to you. For example, I was given a book and supplies voucher to take that covered my books on the spot, so I didn't have to come out of pocket. But there are instances where I may be required to pay first and be reimbursed later.

    As for fees, the school gets the tuition directly. Your housing allowance rate is based off zip code (like any other BAH in the military...nothing new, so I don't understand the confusion!). The only difference is that they base it on the zip code of the school. This money will be direct deposited just like pay should have been in the military, at the end of the month that he actually attended classes. THERE IS NO BREAK PAY, so plan accordingly.

    Getting approval: You'd have to fill out the appropriate forms (can be found on VA website) to request this service. Then you'd be sent a letter telling you to go to an appointment where they'd explain basically everything you just asked about. Then you'd meet with a VR&E counselor one-on-one and they'd discuss any plans and determine if you're approved or not.

    I'm not trying to be rude, but the resources are there. You just need to be patient and seek them out. Like I said before, all of this stuff should be answered after meeting with the counselor, but I'm getting the impression that hasn't happened yet (based off number 8). A large portion of the info can also be found at the VA benefits site.

    My suggestion would be to do some more self-guided research on the topic, as that may something you'd want to be good at before college anyway since that's mainly what it consists of. That and you'll know if your counselor is really trying to "hoodwink" you or whatever. Being armed with knowledge of the program and a strong plan would make it that much harder for them to deny approval!

    Here's the VA e-Benefits VR&E link: http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/vre/

    Take a look around there or just poke around the VA e-benefits main site. There's a ton of info there and it's certainly at least a good place to start.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello! Thanks for your long comment. This was written in January, so we're way past this stage. You also seem to misunderstand a lot of what I wrote, but that's okay.

      Delete
  2. Lisa, I have yet to receive a payment from vocrehab, it's been three months. I can surely use that money. Did you ever receive your payments? If so, how long did it take you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My husband, who is the one in Voc Rehab, receives his housing stipend every month for the month that has passed. After three months, you should have either received a check in the mail or in your bank account, if you have signed up for direct deposit. I would talk to my counselor, if I were you. Perhaps they have the wrong address or bank account.

      Delete
    2. Thank you very much for this information. I guess I have to speak to her once again about the issue. Would you husband happen to know if chapter 31 retro pays ?

      Delete
    3. Chapter 31 doesn't retro pay.

      Delete
    4. Thank you Lisa for your help I highly appreciate it.

      Delete

Share your thoughts.