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What are veterans and military service members’ VR&E benefits?

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If you are a Veteran or Military Service Member you may be eligible for Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, services to help with job training, resume development, job seeking skills coaching, and finding a good job. 

VR&E is a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) program. Read the basic information on VR&E at https://www.benefits. va.gov/vocrehab/index.asp. 

The VR&E Program also offers other services to assist eligible veterans and service members in starting their own businesses or providing independent living services for those who are severely disabled and unable to work in traditional employment. Read about the VR&E Program and how to apply online, by mail, or in-person, at the VR&E Process Page at https:// www.va.gov/careers-employment/vocational-rehabilitation/. 

The VR&E Program intent is to assist service members and veterans with service-connected disabilities to succeed: 

In transitioning back to civilian life; 

In finding suitable employment; 

On campus by supporting education and training; 

At home and communities through services to maximize independence in daily living. 

Read more about how to apply for VR&E at https:// www.va.gov/careers-employment/vocational-rehabilitation/how-to-apply. Learn more about how to apply on-line using the VA’s Application For Vocational Rehabilitation For Claimants With Service-Connected Disabilities, VA Form 28-1900 at https://www.va.gov/ careers-employment/vocational-rehabilitation/apply-vre-form-28-1900/start. For accessing VR&E through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) read the information at https://www.va.gov/careers-employment/vocational-rehabilitation/ides. 

The VR&E Program is also known as Chapter 31 and will help those eligible to explore employment options and address training needs. In some cases, veteran and service member family members may also qualify for certain benefits. Family members of veterans and service members can find out if they are eligible for certain counseling services, training, and education benefits at https://www.va.gov/careers-employment/dependant-benefits. 

Veterans are eligible to apply for VR&E benefits if the Veteran: 

Has an honorable or other than dishonorable discharge; and 

A VA service-connected disability rating of 10 percent or more or a memorandum rating of 20 percent. 

Active-duty service members are eligible to apply for VR&E benefits if the Service Member expects to receive an honorable or other than dishonorable discharge and: 

Obtains a VA memorandum rating of 20 percent or more or 

Is enrolled in the *Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). 

(Note: The Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) is a joint DoD and VA disability evaluation process. Under this system, VA helps DoD determine if wounded, ill, or injured service members are fit for continued military service and provide disability benefits to service members and veterans, if appropriate. IDES allows VA and DoD to share information and to complete each agency’s respective process simultaneously, without the need for duplicative exams and ratings.) 

While eligible to apply for VR&E, the service member must meet the criteria for entitlement, except if the service member is awaiting discharge due to serious injury or illness, which occurred in the line-of-duty. In this case, the service member will be automatically entitled to VR&E benefits under the National Defense Authorization ACT of 2008. 

The VR&E entitlement is for 48 months but this period may be extended if a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor determines that the service member has a serious employment handicap. The time limit for a service member’s eligibility to receive VR&E benefits is limited to 12 years. The 12-year period starts on the latter of these two dates: 

Date of separation from active military duty or 

Date when the veteran was notified of a VA service-connected disability. 

If you’re a veteran or service member with a service-connected disability that impacts your ability to work, the VA’s VR&E Program may be able to help. VR&E offers five support-and-services tracks to help veterans and service members find and keep a job, and live as independently as possible. 

VR&E support-and-services tracks can help those eligible to learn new skills, find a new job, start a business, get professional or vocational training and educational counseling, or return to a former job. The five VR&E support tracks are: 

Reemployment track, where a Service Member may have the right to return to the civilian job that he or she held before they deployed. Services include consultation with the employer, job accommodations, coordination with the Veterans Heath Administration services, reemployment rights advice, and case management. 

Rapid Access to Employment track, where a veteran or service member can get employment counseling, short-term training, subsistence allowance, resume development help, interviewing skills preparation, job search assistance, and job-search support that matches the veteran’s existing skills. 

Self-Employment track, where a service member or veteran, with a service-connected disability, can get help to start his or her own business. Services may include referrals to resources (Small Business Administration, etc.) to assist in developing a business plan, training in small business operations, and guidance in obtaining resources. 

Employment Through Long-Term Services track, where a veteran or service member may be eligible for specialized training or education to obtain suitable employment. This service could include college, vocational, or technical training; apprenticeships, internships, on-the-job training, subsistence money personalized case management, and individualized employment services. 

Independent Living track, where a veteran or service member is unable to pursue a vocational goal or seek employment can get assistive technology, independent living skills training, community-based support services, gain increased access to the community, acquire a volunteer position, and obtain home adaptations to improve independence in daily living. 

Read more about VR&E tracks at https://www. va.gov/careers-employment/vocational-rehabilitation/programs/. 

The VR&E Program is not the same as the GI Bill. The GI Bill is an educational program. VR&E is a program to assist veterans and service members with service-connected disabilities to overcome barriers to employment and become suitably employed. 

Four of the five VR&E tracks of services are geared specifically toward employment. The “E” in VRE stands for employment assistance. 

The three VR&E offices in S.C. are located in Columbia (803-647-2400), Charleston (843-740-9114), and Greenville (864-271- 9682). These offices are in the VBA Southern District and the VBA Regional Office in Columbia, SC. The Charleston VR&E Office is located at 4600 Goer Drive, Suite 110, N. Charleston, S.C. 29406, but due to the COVID Pandemic, it is not open to the public and services are being provided remotely. 

See https://benefits. va.gov/benefits/offices. asp to read about VBA Regional Offices and their locations. This website has a map showing SE, NE, Continental, and Pacific VBA Districts. It also has a by state index that provides links to VA regional offices, an email address for contacting the regional office director and a listing of additional VA facilities located in each state. 

Visit your regional office website to learn about the services the regional office provides, directions to the facility, hours of operation, and the leadership team that serves the regional office. The Columbia, S.C. Regional Office is located at 6437 Garners Ferry Road, Columbia, SC 29209. 

The wonderful benefits offered through the VR&E Program are too many to list in one newspaper article. So do your homework and read all about these hard-earned benefits at www.va.gov and watch the VA YouTube video entitled The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program Individualized Path to Employment at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=pq1eDxZv1Zk. 

It is always advisable to use a trained professional called an accredited representative (an accredited attorney, claims agent, or Veterans Service Officer-VSO), to get help applying for VR&E benefits. The VA trusts these professionals because they’re trained and certified in the VA claims and appeals processes and can help with VA-related needs. 

Find a VA list and contact information for Veterans and Military Service Organizations at https://www.va.gov/VSO/ VSO-Directory.pdf. You can also search online for VA Accredited VSOs, Attorneys, and Claims Agents at https://www.va.gov/ogc/ apps/accreditation/index. asp.

More importantly, S.C. Veterans can find a list of all S.C. County VSOs at https://scdva.sc.gov/county-veterans-affairs-offices. S.C. County VSO services are free. The Beaufort County Veterans Service Office is located in the Disabilities and Special Needs Building, at 100 Clear Water Way, Beaufort, S.C. 29906, phone number 843- 255-6880, and fax number 843-255-9445. Call ahead to make an appointment. 

Larry Dandridge is a retired Lt. Col. In the U.S. Army. He is a Vietnam War era wounded warrior, a combat and 100 percent disabled veteran, a former Infantryman, former Warrant Officer and pilot. Dandridge is also a past Veterans Service Officer, and a current volunteer Patient Adviser, CEO Advisory Council Member, and Patient and Family Advisory Committee Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center, as well as a published author and free-lance writer. He can be reached at LDandridge@earthlink.net. 

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