Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E)
Some veterans retire or separate from military service in perfect health. Others may have VA-related disabilities related to service-connected medical issues or injuries. When a veteran receives a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, they aren’t necessarily precluded from starting a new career and working a civilian job.
But some injuries, illnesses, and disabilities do interfere with the ability to find and maintain employment. If you are a veteran with a qualifying VA-rated disability that affects your ability to find or keep a job, there is VA help in the form of a program called Veteran Readiness and Employment program.
What Is the Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (VR&E)?
Formerly branded as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VOC REHAB), the program is informally known as VR&E and features five “tracks” that can help veterans find support and services that are designed to help people live more independently.
Each track has a different emphasis, and you may wish to explore multiple tracks to get the most value from these services. In typical cases, these programs are aimed at those who have retired or separated, but there are exceptions made for some who are close to final out-processing or are otherwise scheduled to depart active duty service.
Programs like these are subject to change due to legislation, program modification, demand, or other factors. What follows is current at press time, but it’s a good idea to call the VA directly (at 1-800-827-1000) to get the latest updates on benefits that may apply to you.
Who Is Eligible for VA VR&E?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, you may be eligible to apply for VR&E benefits and services if you do NOT have a dishonorable discharge and your VA disability rating is at least 10%. If you meet these requirements, you may apply and be scheduled for an evaluation with a VR&E counselor who will make a final eligibility determination.
If you left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, you have no time limit on your VR&E eligibility.
Depending on when they joined, some veterans may have a time limit on claiming these benefits. This applies to those who left active duty prior to 2013. In these cases, you have 12 years to use these benefits. The clock begins on either the date you left active duty or the date you were first notified of your VA disability rating, whichever date is later.
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Extensions May Be Possible
The 12-year eligibility period for VR&E benefits could be longer if the VA determines you have what they define as a “serious employment handicap”, which basically means your VA-rated disability “significantly limits your ability to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment”.
In this case, the VA definition of “suitable employment” means a job that doesn’t aggravate your disability, and “matches your abilities, aptitudes, and interests” according to the VA official site.
A Note About Those Still On Active Duty Looking for VR&E Information
VR&E is typically used by veterans but if you are still on active duty you may be able to apply if you meet certain requirements including:
- You must have a 20% or higher pre-discharge disability rating and are due to retire or separate soon or;
- You’re awaiting discharge due to a medical issue that occurred while you were on active duty.
- VA literature says “severely injured” active-duty service members “can automatically receive VR&E benefits before VA issues a disability rating”.
You may be allowed to file a VA claim for disability benefits through the VA Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) Program between 180 to 90 days before you retire or separate.
What follows are the program descriptions for all VR&E tracks in the program, which include:
- Rapid Access To Employment
- Employment Through Long-Term Services
- Independent Living
The VR&E Reemployment track is designed to help service members return to a former job they held “before deployment” according to the official site. This track includes the following options:
- VR&E Special Employer Incentives (SEI) program for qualifying vets “who might face challenges finding employment”;
- VR&E Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) program is an option for qualifying vets who “have an established career goal and learn easily in a hands-on environment—or are having trouble getting a job due to lack of work experience.”
- Help may be available from VR&E employment coordinators. These can be found at VA regional offices.
Rapid Access to Employment Track
This is the track you should consider if you want to use your existing job skills rather than looking for a new type of employment. You may qualify for benefits under this track if the following are true:
- You have an employment handicap, and;
- You are enrolled in VR&E, and;
- You have experience, education, or training in the career field you seek employment in.
This program offers job search tools, vocational counseling, resume help, and assistance with determining veterans hiring preferences for state jobs, Civil Service, etc.
The Self-Employment track can help you start your own business. Note that this track is not meant to provide funding for a small business, but rather to teach strategies for small business success. That may include:
- Coordination services
- Help in developing a business plan
- Analysis of your small business concept
- Training in small-business operations
- Training in small business marketing
- Training in small business finance
Like the other tracks mentioned above, the Self-Employment track includes options such as additional training, but for self-employed applicants, it may be a good idea to consider the VA offer of counseling for those making the transition from military to civilian careers. Especially if you have been out of the civilian marketplace for some time.
Employment Through Long-Term Services Track
This option is designed for veterans who want training and education so they can transition into a new career field. You may be offered the following services related to this track including:
- A job skills assessment
- Career counseling
- Evaluation of the current job market
- On-the-job training
- Volunteer options
- Employment assistance
In this track, you may be referred to Department of Labor resources to further assist you in your search for a new career.
Independent Living Track
Are you retiring or separating from the military and cannot go back to work immediately? You may qualify for up to 24 months of benefits including counseling and evaluation to help you establish and meet your independent living goals as well as referrals to support agencies which may also be able to help.
This track also includes evaluations and recommendations for adaptive housing programs that can be used to make a home more accessible for those with service-connected medical issues. You may qualify for an adaptive housing grant or other benefits; this track will help you learn what programs and grants you could qualify for.
If you anticipate getting a VA rating and want to start exploring your VR&E benefits, contact the VA directly and ask to get an appointment with a VA benefits counselor or rep who can help you determine what you may qualify for and when. If you have not left active duty yet, you can ask for more information from your command support staff, first individual, Command Sergeant Major, or other support staff about how and when to claim VA benefits such as VR&E.
Remember that to start any post-discharge VA benefit you may be required to submit a DD Form 214 Report of Discharge or the Guard/Reserve equivalent. Safeguard this important paperwork once you get it from your final out-processing appointment.
You’ll be glad you did. If you are retiring or separating from an overseas location, store a digital copy of your discharge paperwork safely as a hard copy and save it in the cloud, such as a Google Drive or a Dropbox account for safekeeping.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.