Most of the discussion around educational benefits centers on traditional college tracks and the Chapter 30 (Montgomery) and Chapter 33 (Post 9/11) GI Bill options. However, these benefits can apply to almost any kind of education - professional or academic in nature. You can use the GI Bill for test fees, non-college degree programs like EMT training or CDL school, flight training, apprenticeships and on-the-job training, and countless other opportunities.
Beyond the GI Bill, however, is another educational/occupational benefit found in 38 USC § 3100 (Chapter 31) - the VR&E Program. (The VRE program was originally the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, and has recently been rebranded at the Veterans Readiness and Employment Program). Chapter 31 benefits help veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment handicaps prepare for, find, and keep suitable jobs. This initiative includes "helping veteran entrepreneurs or those too disabled to maintain conventional employment develop and become self-employment business owners." For disabilities that substantially impact the ability to work, Chapter 31 benefits provide for an Independent Living Program.
The simplified process is as follows: apply for Chapter 31 benefits; attend an orientation explaining the program (~ 4 hours); meet with a counselor to establish entitlement to the benefits; draft a plan for your education/vocational training and target employment in a particular sector; execute the plan.
If your GI Bill benefits are exhausted/forfeited/otherwise unavailable, Chapter 31 allows you to attend school and receive either a VR&E Stipend or the GI Bill stipend (basic allowance for housing based upon your school/program's zip code). Veterans participating in VA’s VR&E Program who elect the GI Bill rate are paid at the 100% rate level for their school and training time, even if their GI Bill eligibility is less than 100%. Additional benefits are also available through the VR&E program, such as payment of all required books, fees and supplies as well as other supportive services.
In speaking with a local Veteran's Service Officer (VSO), I learned that veterans of every period of service from the Korean War up to present are regularly enrolled in the Chapter 31 benefit program. The VR&E program provides an intensive, one on one opportunity to dial in on a particular career and get after it with financial and institutional support.
Eligibility for veterans focuses on three predominant factors:
1. Have a disability rating of at least 10%
2. Have a discharge that is not “dishonorable”
3. Apply for the benefits you seek
For Active Duty servicemembers, the factors considered are:
1. Expect to receive an honorable or other than dishonorable discharge upon separation
2. Obtain a memorandum rating of 20% or more from the VA
3. Apply for VR&E services
If you think you qualify for the VR&E program, reach out to your nearest VSO or VA Clinic/Hospital to speak to a representative about applying and determining entitlement.
38 U.S. Code § 3100 states the following: The purposes of this chapter are to provide for all services and assistance necessary to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities to achieve maximum independence in daily living and, to the maximum extent feasible, to become employable and to obtain and maintain suitable employment.