A common question veterans have asked me whether they should use Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment or the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Since college will be starting back up in 2 months, it seems to be a good time to address it. Over the years, I have used the GI Bill and Voc Rehab. When it comes to this question, the answer is not as clear as most people think. However, if you want the short answer, read about it on VABenefitsblog.com.
About Chapter 31 Voc Rehab
First of all, you need to qualify for Voc Rehab. While most veterans asking this question are already qualified, some are not. So we’ll start from this understanding. In order to qualify for Chapter 31 Vocational Rehab, you’ll need to have a 20% disabitliy rating. Or, you’ll need a 10% rating that the Voc Rehab Counselor feels seriously prohibits your ability to have or maintain employment. The determination needed is called a “serious employment handicap.” Once you apply and are accepted, then you’ll have a decision to make.
Changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill
Recent changes to the GI Bill make this decision a little easier as of August 2011. According to the VA, disabled veterans who qualify for Chapter 31 will be able to opt for the GI Bill stipend while enrolled in training or college. This option lasts for as long as you have GI Bill entitlement. Once you use up the amount, up to 36 months, your stipend will revert back to the Voc Rehab stipend, around $554 per month for single veterans from $1,300 per month.
While this seems to make the decision easier, it may not. Disabled veterans may wish to have greater flexibility in selecting their training than Voc Rehab allows. If you’re in Voc Rehab, the counselor is almost god over your training. They tend to steer veterans in particular directions that the counselor believes to be in the veteran’s best interests. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes the “one size fits all” approach is inappropriate. After all, the veteran is the one who needs to live with the decision, not the Voc Rehab Counselor. Veterans wishing to have greater flexibility will then need to use the GI Bill.
The Voc Rehab Switcharoo
Now here’s where things get dicey. If the veteran runs out of entitement under the GI Bill, they are not automatically entitled to use the remainder of Voc Rehab. Generally, vets get up to 48 months of entitlement with Voc Rehab. However, that is not a sure thing, as it is with the GI Bill. You will need to be found to be both “eligible” and “entitled” by the counselor in order to use the remainder of the benefit.
And one more caveat. Some veterans with “serious employment handicaps” can be found to be entitled to even more than 48 months of training.
Here’s a hypothetical: Veteran Bob decides to get an undergrad in Art using the GI Bill. After receiving the degree, Bob realizes he should have studied Business as a major because he can’t find a job. So, Bob applies with Voc Rehab. Assuming Bob has a “serious employment handicap,” the Voc Rehab Counselor may allow Bob to get an Master’s in Business Administration or something similar. Always remember, the goal of Voc Rehab is to get disabled veterans to the point of employability in a suitable career field. Once Bob is back into the program, he gets an additional 21 months to complete the degree (or however long it takes).
It can be much more tricky than this hypo, but that should give you the gist of what to expect if you need or want more training/schooling after using up your GI Bill. If you get caught up in the process or have questions, check out our guide on www.veteransguides.com.
Summary: the only clear choice is to opt for the GI Bill stipend while using Chapter 31 Voc Rehab if you decide to go that route. However, if you need additional schooling, be prepared for one heck of a fight with the VA Machine to get your square deal.