What is VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Training Benefits

The purposes of the VA Vocational Rehabilitation (“Voc Rehab”) program are to help veterans with service-connected conditions become gainfully employed, maintain that employment, and achieve independence in daily living. The Voc Rehab program is implemented in Chapter 31 of Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, so the benefits are sometimes referred to as “Chapter 31” benefits. The program includes several different services and benefits to help an eligible veteran achieve his or her rehabilitation goal. Services include vocational and personal counseling, education and training, financial aid, job assistance, and, if needed, medical and dental treatment. Program services generally are available for up to 48 months, but can be extended under certain instances.

Basic entitlement for Voc Rehab requires 1) a veteran with an award of monthly VA compensation or 2) a service member awaiting discharge from the service with a condition which will likely be awarded monthly VA compensation. In addition, a Voc Rehab claimant generally

  • Must have served on or after September 16, 1940; and
  • Must have service-connected conditions that are schedular rated at least 20% disabling (10% if VA determines a “serious employment handicap” exists); and
  • Needs Voc Rehab to overcome an employment handicap; and
  • It has been less than 12 years since VA notified the claimant of his or her qualification for Voc Rehab benefits.

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.

A veteran who is eligible for an evaluation under Chapter 31 must first apply for Voc Rehab services using VA Form 28-1900 [http://www.va.gov/vaforms/form_detail.asp?FormNo=28-1900]. An eligible applicant will receive an appointment with a Voc Rehab counselor who will determine if an employment handicap exists as a result of the veteran’s service connected condition. If an employment handicap is established, a plan to address the veteran’s unique rehabilitation and employment needs will be developed.

Under the Voc Rehab program, VA will pay training costs, tuition and fees, books, supplies, equipment, and special services needed by the veteran. While in training, VA will also pay a monthly “subsistence allowance” to help with living expenses. For veterans with service-connected disabilities so severe that they cannot immediately get back to work, the program will try to improve his or her ability to live as independently as possible.

Chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code, provides for the training and rehabilitation of veterans with service-connected disabilities.  “The purposes of [chapter 31 benefits] are to provide for all services and assistance necessary to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities to achieve maximum independence in daily living and, to the maximum extent feasible, to become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.”  38 U.S.C. § 3100.  38 U.S.C. section 3101 refers to a VA “vocational rehabilitation program” and defines that rehabilitation program.  Additionally, 38 U.S.C. section 3104 provides in pertinent part:  “Services and assistance which the Secretary may provide under this chapter, pursuant to regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe, include … [p]lacement services to effect suitable placement in employment, and postplacement services to attempt to insure satisfactory adjustment in employment.”  38 U.S.C. § 3104(a)(5).

Under VA regulation, the term rehabilitation program “includes, when appropriate: (1) A vocational rehabilitation program (see paragraph (i) of this section); … or (3) A program of employment services for employable veterans who are prior participants in Department of Veterans Affairs or state-federal vocational rehabilitation programs.”  38 C.F.R. § 21.35(f). Further, 38 C.F.R. section 21.35(i) restates the definition of “vocational rehabilitation program” in the same terms as already defined in 38 U.S.C. § 3101(9)(A)(ii).  Cottle v. Principi, 14 Vet. App. 329, 332-33 (2001).

The statutory purpose of vocational rehabilitation programs is “to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities … to the maximum extent feasible, to become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.” 38 U.S.C. § 3100; see also 38 C.F.R. § 21.1 (same).  Thus, the very fact of a veteran’s participation in a rehabilitation program, the objective of which is to become employable, is evidence that the veteran is presently unemployable.

[A] veteran’s participation in an activity carried out under this section [entitled “Therapeutic and rehabilitative activities”] … may [not] be considered as a basis for the denial or discontinuance of a rating of total disability for purposes of compensation or pension based on the veteran’s inability to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation as a result of disability.

38 U.S.C. § 1718(f)(1).  A plain reading of the statute reveals that the Board may not properly consider an appellant’s participation in a vocational rehabilitation program as evidence of employability.  Thus, the interim evaluations from a vocational rehabilitation program are both irrelevant and immaterial to evaluating employability because they do not logically establish employability in the periods in which they are rendered; they only point to the strength of an expectation of future employability.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Disabled Veterans Must Know About Veteran Status and Eligibility for VA Benefits

Establishing Eligibility

The law currently sets three threshold conditions to be eligible for VA benefits:

  1.  veteran status,
  2.  character of discharge, and
  3.  a medical condition that is not the result of willful misconduct or substance abuse.

Veteran Status

Are you a Veteran?

Many eligible individuals are unaware that they are “veterans” for VA benefits purposes. Contrary to some beliefs, it is not necessary that a service member have been in combat or have retired from the military to be eligible for VA benefits. Although there are usually some minimal period of service requirements, the vast majority of individuals with active duty service (including certain training and certain “call ups” of Reserve or Guard) are “veterans” for VA purposes.

Veteran status is defined as:

  1. a claimant must be “a person who served in the active military services”, and
  2. who was discharged or released “under conditions other than dishonorable.

Although the term “veteran” appears straightforward, there are specific legal requirements for someone to be considered a “veteran” for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits.  “In order to qualify for VA benefits, a claimant . . . [must be] a ‘veteran.'”  Cropper v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 450, 452 (1994); D’Amico v. West, 209 F.3d 1322, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2000).  A veteran is defined as “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.”  38 U.S.C. § 101(2); 38 C.F.R. § 3.1(d).  Service in the active military, naval, or air service includes service in the United States Armed Forces or, for certain purposes, service in the organized military forces or organized guerilla forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in the service of the United States Armed Forces.  38 U.S.C. §§ 101(10), 101(21)(C), 101(24), 107; 38 C.F.R. § 3.40(b).

To establish entitlement to benefits, VA may accept documents submitted by a claimant as evidence of qualifying service, without verification from the appropriate service department, if the documents were issued by a U.S. service department, contain the needed information, and in VA’s opinion are genuine and contain accurate information. 38 C.F.R. § 3.203(a); Soria v. Brown, 118 F.3d 747, 749 (Fed. Cir. 1997).  If, however, the evidence of service submitted does not meet the requirements of section 3.203(a), VA must request verification of service from the appropriate U.S. service department.  38 C.F.R. § 3.203(c); Soria, 118 F.3d at 749; Capellan v. Peake, 539 F.3d 1373, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (noting that section 3.203(c) requires verification from the service department whenever a claimant lacks the kind of official evidence specified in section 3.203(a)).

Under section 3.203, service department findings are binding on VA for purposes of establishing qualifying service.  Duro v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 530, 532 (1992) (“[t]herefore, VA is prohibited from finding, on any basis other than a service department document, which VA believes to be authentic and accurate, or service department verification, that a particular individual served in the U.S. Armed Forces.”).  “Thus, if the United States service department refuses to verify the applicant’s claimed service, the applicant’s only recourse lies within the relevant service department, not the VA.” Soria, 118 F.3d at 749.  The Board’s determination of “veteran status” is a question of fact that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard of review set forth in 38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4).  Struck v. Brown, 9 Vet. App. 145, 152-53 (1996).

Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress established the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (“FVECF”) and authorized VA to make one-time payments from the fund to eligible persons who submitted a claim within the one-year period beginning on the date of enactment.  Pub. L. No. 111- 5, § 1002, 123 Stat. 115.  The act defined the term “eligible person” as any person who served before July 1, 1946, in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, including the recognized guerilla forces, or in the Philippine Scouts.  Id.  But, “Philippine veterans are not eligible for veterans’ benefits unless a United States service department documents or certifies their service.”  Soria v. Brown, 118 F.3d 747, 749 (Fed. Cir. 1997); 38 C.F.R. § 3.9.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency