Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) is such a dreamy program with little information online for veterans to actually read. I think most guides and websites give qualified veterans roughly 2 pages of information. If this seems reasonable to you, rest assured that there is more to the story than what they tell you upfront.
The laws have changed over the years. Last January, Congress decided to relax the standard by which veterans needed to fall under in order to qualify. First, you need to have a disability rated at 20% or higher. 10% only qualifies in special situations. Second, you need to convince the Voc Rehab counselor that she should approve you. Formerly, veterans needed to be only “the most severely disabled” in order to qualify. Now, other disabled veterans can successfully apply for the self-employment benefit. However, many Voc Rehab counselors are unaware of the law change.
For now, just know that disabled veterans can become self-employed using Voc Rehab. I get a steady stream of emails from my readers about this benefit because they have no idea what the program can do. Later this summer, I’ll assemble a solid guide on that process. But in the mean time, I want you to have enough knowledge to make a go of it on your own.
We’ll give it the one-two punch approach. First, you’ll get what the VA tells you online. Then, you’ll get what I know, and what I have been told by Voc Rehab officials.
VA Self-Employment Information from VA.GOV
“ This option is designed for individuals who have limited access to traditional employment, need flexible work schedules, or need a more accommodating work environment due to their disabling conditions or other life circumstances. Services under this option may include analysis of the viability of a business concept, development of a business plan, training in the operation of a small business, marketing and financial assistance, and guidance on obtaining adequate resources to implement the plan. ”
Questions to Ask
- How much will it pay?
- What will the program pay for?
- How long does it last?
Answers for Voc Rehab Self-Employment
(for this, 38 CFR §21.214 is very helpful)
Self-Employment Total Funding
First, the regs say the program can approve up to $25,000 at the local level. This means your Vocational Rehabilitation Officer (VRO) will need to approve you. The VRO is the person who is in charge of the regional Voc Rehab office. For amounts greater than $25,000, the counselor will need to seek approval from the Director, basically the VRO’s boss. They hate doing that, but some veterans get it done. I personally know of one veteran in the Portland, Oregon, area who received $100,000.
Voc Rehab will generally pay for whatever is necessary to begin operation. This includes stock materials, inventory, items for day-to-day operation and machinery. The program will also pay for licensing fees and general business training.
The program will not pay for the following:
- Purchase or rental of land or building
- Purchase or rental of vehicles for transportation
- Stocking of a farm for animal husbandry operation
So, the program will pay for a lot of things. While it won’t pay for a car, it will pay for a tractor. For example, one guy set up a landscaping company with Voc Rehab funding. The VA set another guy up with a metal shop to make urns. And still another set up a photography business. You could probably get approval for a snow removal business or a publishing company.
The program is set to last 18 months. This means that you will need to convince the Voc Rehab counselor and his boss that you will be profitable in 18 months.
Voc Rehab will pay for a lot of things to get the ball rolling. During your first meeting, ensure you go in there prepared with facts and figures if you plan on getting approval for self-employment. They do not like approving this goal! So, the onus is on you to show them you can achieve independence through self-employment, because that is what Voc Rehab is all about – independence.
Anyone with a success story about self-employment through Voc Rehab should send me an email directly.
Photo thanks to ben g under creative commons license on Flickr.