For the past couple years, I’ve been getting questions from veterans who qualify for both the GI Bill and Voc Rehab. Usually, these vets that write me want to know which program has the better deal. Personally, I’ve used Chapter 31 Voc Rehab to fund my undergrad, law school, and now know just enough to be dangerous. Now, the answer to the question of which is better has changed with new legislation governing the GI Bill.
So the answer is… Veterans will be able to use both programs at the same time as of August 1, 2011, according to the VA National Call Center. This does not mean you can get both stipend and funding amounts simultaneously. It means a veteran can opt for the BAH stipend of the GI Bill while using Chapter 31. This is potentially the best of both worlds. You receive $1300 per month for living expenses, full tuition and fee coverage, a computer and related equipment, and you get job placement counseling after completing your degree.
First, in order to qualify for Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation the veteran must have an employment handicap and a 20% disability rating. Disabled veterans with a 10% rating can apply but they must have a “serious employment handicap” to qualify. The difference between these two classifications is somewhat subjective and depends largely on the opinion of the Voc Rehab Counselor. Once you apply for Chapter 31 and are approved, you will have some decisions to make if you still have GI Bill eligibility remaining.
Again, this option is only good as long as the veteran has available Chapter 33 eligibility, up to 36 months. Once that entitlement is used up, the stipend will revert to the measly $554 per month for a single veteran from Chapter 31. Generally speaking, most veterans can only receive up to 48 months of educational benefits. In theory, this means you can use up 36 months of GI Bill benefits and still receive 12 months of Chapter 31 Vocational Rehab.
Problems tend to arise when veterans try to jump from the GI Bill to Voc Rehab (as opposed to starting the educational process while in Chapter 31), because Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors have specific guidelines they must follow. This means veterans are not free to study whatever they want. Ultimately, the counselor has the final say. Many veterans see this as a usurpation of their ability to be independent adults, and they are right. On the flip side, if you can play the Voc Rehab game well enough, you may be eligible to receive even more benefits beyond the 48 months.
How do I know this? I personally have been approved for 80 months of training and will finish my law degree in two years. You can read more about extended educational benefits here.
Photo thanks to koalazymonkey under creative common license on Flickr.