Vocational Rehabilitation; What it is, and How to Apply.

Vocational Rehabilitation Eligibility vs. Entitlement

Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc-Rehab).  We’ve all heard the term, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we know just exactly what it is.  For veterans who wish to return to work after the end of their military service, the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is there for those who have a disability which is preventing them from successfully finding or keeping employment.

The Voc-Rehab program is not open to all veterans, but is instead focused for those who meet several items for eligibility.  The veteran has to have received a discharge under any conditions so long as they were not “dishonorable.”  Additionally, the veteran must have a minimum service connected disability rating of 10%.  This eligibility lasts for twelve years.  The twelve years begins on either the day the veteran was discharged or the day he or she received notification of a disability rating; whichever date is later is the one the VA uses to establish time frame eligibility.

Just because a veteran is eligible for Voc-Rehab, that does not me he is entitled to Voc-Rehab benefits.  After applying to the VA for participation in this program, and proving eligibility, an appointment is made with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.  In this meeting, the goal is to prove that the veteran is hampered by an employment handicap.  An employment handicap is the inability to garner or retain suitable employment that falls within the veteran’s abilities and interests.  This inability must be greatly attributed to the veteran’s service connected disability.  If this link is established, then the veteran is entitled to Voc-Rehab benefits.

For veterans who have exactly 10% disability rating, and those who are outside the twelve year window, there is still an avenue to get Voc-Rehab benefits.

The VA differentiates between an employment handicap and a serious employment handicap.  Veterans in these two special situations must prove that they suffer from a serious employment handicap.  The difference between the two is this:  While an employment handicap is the inability to garner or retain suitable employment, a serious employment handicap goes beyond the just the inability but is the “significant impairment” of the veteran’s ability to get or keep suitable employment.  If this serious employment handicap is proven to be service connected, then veterans in this category are also entitled to Voc-Rehab benefits.


The easiest way to apply for Vocation Rehabilitation benefits from the VA is to apply online.  The ebenefits website provides a link to VONAPP, the VA’s online application grand central stations.  If you do not already have a VONAPP account, it is quite easy to get one.  Simply click on the large words which say “I am a new VONAPP user.”  You will be shown a page explaining that you’re about to fill out a form, and your privacy rights for the information you enter.  At the bottom of the page are two links that say “Back / Continue.”  After a page or two of information you get to pick between a DOD link and creating a new VONAPP account.  Click this link and enter your information to create an account.

Once you have logged in you will see a box that says Create a new Form and a drop down menu of VA forms.  Pick Vocational Rehabilitation (VA FORM 28-1900).  Begin going page by page, entering in the information it asks for.  If you need to stop and resume later, don’t worry.  The program saves each page as you go to the next.  Make sure that you close out the browser when you are done if you are at a public computer to protect your information.  The next time you log into VONAPP you will see a list of active applications in a box below the box you just selected that form from.  Simply click on your Voc-Rehab application and it will take you to the spot you left off from.

So just what are the Voc-Rehab benefits?

Ok, so what exactly are the Voc-Rehab benefits?  Once the veteran has established entitlement, he or she draws up a contract with the Voc-Rehab Counselor.   The veteran and the counselor work together to determine which job skills the veteran possess, in addition to relevant aptitudes and interests.  They explore the labor market, and research training requirements for employment types the veteran is interested in.  They design a rehabilitation plan which includes a VR&E VetSuccess program aimed at helping the veteran reach suitable employment goals.

The VR&E VetSuccess program is a choice the veteran makes.  There are five options, and the veteran and counselor pick the one which is most fitting to the veteran’s needs.  The five options are,

1. Re-employment with a previous employer

2. New employment

3. Self-employment

4. Employment via long term services and training

5. Independent Living services — this is for veterans who have such a severe employment handicap that they first need help establishing a healthy, independent lifestyle before finding employment.

Once a rehabilitation plan is developed, the counselor will continue to provide assistance by training in various job seeking skills, referrals, payment of a training allowance if the veteran is receiving one, and other counseling services.

If a veteran is determined to be not entitled to Voc-Rehab benefits, the initial interviewing counselor will direct the veteran to other employment help agencies such as city or state vocational rehabilitation programs.

Photo thanks to AngelaArcher.com under creative common license on Flickr.

5 thoughts on “Vocational Rehabilitation; What it is, and How to Apply.”

  1. Very informative article, I have been participating in the VR&E program since 2007. This program has helped me achieve a BS in psychology. The only issue I have with the program is the pace at which it operates, due to high client numbers and low counselor numbers it can crawl along at a pace attributed to a snail. Once in the system it does improve to a certain degree, but can be very trying. The key is to be pro-active and keep good records of all things related to the veterans specific program of rehabilitation. Here in Ohio it can be a long road which is frustrating at times, but in the end, makes all the difference in the world.

    USMC ’89-’91

  2. Mike, It’s good to hear a story of how the system worked for you. There are so many programs and the VA is so big, that sometimes we get too caught up in all the things that go wrong. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. I am currently pursuing a degree in Marketing Management using the Post 911 GI Bill. I want to also get my Six Sigma, Black Belt Certification and Project Management Certification. Can I use the VA Vocational Rehab Program and GI Bill at the same time?


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