An Introduction to Vocational Rehabilitation and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs
American Indians and Alaska Natives have long-served with distinction in United States military actions. During the closing days of World War I, fourteen Choctaw Code Talkers were instrumental in helping the American Expeditionary Force to win several key battles in the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
During World War II the U.S. Marines' Navajo Code Talkers transmitted vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios using a code that Japanese code breakers were unable to decipher. Comanche Code Talkers provided tactical voice security for the U.S. Army on D-day's Omaha and Utah beaches. Eskimo scouts, during World War II, patrolled 5,000 miles of Aleutian coastline and 200,000 miles of tundra, rescuing downed American airmen.
Experienced Native World War II veterans were joined by newly recruited American Indians to fight Communist aggression in Korea. And more than 42,000 American Indians, more than 90-percent of them volunteers, fought in Vietnam. The contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the American armed forces also include conflicts in Grenada, Panama, and Somalia; the first Persian Gulf conflict; and today in Afghanistan and Iraq (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; CEHIP Inc., 1996; Global Security, Org.; Jones, 1995).
Historically, American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, in comparison to other ethnic groups, have the highest record of military service per capita. Census 2000 found there are more than 190,000 living American Indian and Alaskan Native military veterans (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
Many of these veterans bear the wounds of battle. For example, the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reports that no group of Vietnam veterans is more susceptible to physical illness than American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. Native veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reported even more chronic physical illnesses. This combination of PTSD and chronic physical illness also results in especially high levels of medical disability among American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. A combination of PTSD and chronic health problems is the key factor in leading American Indian and Alaska Native veterans to seek Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient medical care; a group that seeks care approximately five times more often than other Vietnam veterans (National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
American Indian and Alaska Native veterans with service-connected disabilities such as PTSD may benefit from the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service. This practice guide will introduce the VA vocational rehabilitation services that are available to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans with service-connected disabilities. The VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service also features an independent living program that this practice guide will not address. For more information about this program contact the nearest VA office.
What is the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program?
The VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, under Title 38, Chapter 31, of the United States Code (2004), assists American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, and other veterans, with service-connected (U.S.C.S. 101(16); 38 C.F.R. 3.1(k), 3.303(a), 2004) disabilities achieve independence in daily living and obtain and maintain suitable employment. Vocational rehabilitation may involve employment assistance, self-employment assistance, training in a rehabilitation program, or college or vocational technical training.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible for vocational rehabilitation benefits an American Indian or Alaska Native veteran, or other veteran, must have a VA established service-connected disability rated as 10 percent disabling with a serious employment handicap (U.S.C.S. 3101(7); 38 C.F.R. 21.35(g), 2004)or at least a 20 percent service-connected disability with an employment handicap (U.S.C.S. 3101(1); 38 C.F.R. 21.35(a), 2004). A veteran must be discharged or released from military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Individuals presently in the military with pending medical separation from active duty may apply; however, the disability rating must be at least 20 percent. Secondly, the VA must determine that training goals and the means of achieving them are reasonably feasible as outlined in an individualized written vocational rehabilitation plan (IWRP). A temporary vocational rehabilitation program may be available to veterans with service-connected disabilities who are awarded disability benefits based on total disability individual unemployability (U.S.C.S. 501; 38 C.F.R. 4.16, 2004) after January 31, 1985. These veterans receive 100 percent disability compensation. If eligible, they may participate in a vocational rehabilitation program. A veteran who is employed under this temporary program will continue to receive 100 percent disability compensation until he or she has worked continuously for at least twelve months.
What is the length of a rehabilitation program?
A veteran usually must complete a vocational rehabilitation program within 12 years of separation from military service, or within 12 years of the date the VA provides the veteran with notification of a compensable service-connected disability. A vocational rehabilitation program, with limited exceptions, will not exceed 48 months of full-time services or their part-time equivalent.
What happens following an eligibility decision?
Following the eligibility decision the veteran and the rehabilitation counselor will jointly identify all viable employment options; narrow vocational options to identify an appropriate career goal; explore the labor market information and wage information; investigate training requirements; identify physical demands; and develop an individualized written vocational rehabilitation plan to achieve the career goal.
What is a Vocational Plan?
The vocational plan is an individualized, written, and detailed outline of services that will be provided under the Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment program. The following types of plans are available: The Individualized Employment Assistance Plan (IEAP) outlines steps to assist the veteran obtain employment; employment assistance may be available for up to 18 months. The Individual Extended Evaluation Plan (IEEP) is used to determine whether a veteran is able to obtain and maintain employment and usually does not exceed 12 months. The Individualized Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP) outlines the veteran's training or education and employment goal. With limited exceptions, the plan will not exceed 48 months.
What happens once the IWRP is developed?
Once a plan is developed, the veteran, with the assistance of a case manager, will work toward a goal of gainful employment. The case manager will coordinate tutorial assistance, medical and dental referrals, coordination of training allowance payments, and counseling and support during training and employment.
What kind of employment services are available?
Specialized employment services will be provided by a case manager, employment specialist, and/or disabled veterans outreach placement coordinator. Services include: job placement assistance and placement follow-up support services; job seeking skills training such as interviewing techniques and resume preparation; and educating employers about tax incentive programs. In some cases, special employment programs are available. These include on-the-job training placement, non-paid work experience placement, and special employer incentive placement.
How do I apply for vocational rehabilitation?
To apply for vocational rehabilitation benefits American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, and other veterans, must file the Disabled Veteran's Application for Vocational Rehabilitation Form 28-1900 with the nearest VA office. Information and assistance is available from any VA office or Veterans Assistance Center.
Additionally, local representatives of veterans service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and American Red Cross have forms available. The VA also allows veterans to apply for vocational rehabilitation benefits on its Internet based Veterans On-line APPlication website (VONAPP). Advocates, however, are advised to discourage veterans from applying for benefits using VONAPP. The VONAPP system will guide veterans through the application process, provide help topics, and edit some items to reduce typing errors. However, VONAPP forms cannot be signed electronically. Signatures required for original claims and other forms may complicate the application process for many veterans. Thus, it is recommended that veterans, with the assistance of a veterans service officer, file standard paper applications with the nearest VA office.
Forms and Resources on the Internet for American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans
Disabled Veteran's Application for Vocational Rehabilitation Form 28-1900 is available on the web at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/
Veterans On-line application website (VONAPP) is available at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp
VA Regional Office addresses are available at http://www.va.gov/oro/page.cfm?pg=99
Veterans Service Providers are available at http://www.va.gov/vso/index.cfm?template=view
Disabled American Veterans, Department of Alaska is available at http://www.ptialaska.net/~akdav
CEHIP Inc. (1996). 20th Century Warriors: Native American Participation in the United States Military. Retrieved August 2, 2004 from http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq61-1.htm
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. (n.d.). World War I and World War II Code Talkers. Retrieved August 5, 2004 from http://www.oklachahta.org/code%20talkers.htm
Department of Veterans Affairs. (2004). Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents (4th ed.). Retrieved August 2, 2004 from http://www1.va.gov/opa/vadocs/current_benefits.htm
Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Vocational
Rehabilitation and Employment Services web site,
GlobalSecurity.org. (n.d.). 207th Infantry Group (Scout). Retrieved August 4, 2004 from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/207in.htm
Jones, Renee. (1995).Comanche codetalking on D-day. Army Communicator on-line. Retrieved August 5, 2004 from http://www.gordon.army.mil/AC/
National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). The Legacy of Psychological Trauma from the Vietnam War for American Indian Personnel. Retrieved August 2, 2004 from http://www.ncptsd.org/facts/veterans/fs_native_vets.html
National Veterans Legal Services Program. (1995). Basic Training Course in Veterans' Benefits. Washington, D.C.: Author.
Stichman, B. F., Abrams, R. G. & Addlestone, D. F. (Eds.). (1999). Veterans Benefits Manual. Charlottesville: Lexis.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 3, Sex by Age by Armed Forces Status by Veteran Status for the Population 18 Years and Over (American Indian and Alaska Native Alone). Retrieved August 2, 2004 from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DatasetMainPageServlet?_program=DEC&_lang=en
U.S.C.S. Chapter 31 (2004).
U.S.C.S. 101(16); 38 C.F.R. 3.1(k), 3.303(a) (2004).
U.S.C.S. 3101(7); 38 C.F.R. 21.35(g) (2004).
U.S.C.S. 3101(1); 38 C.F.R. 21.35(a) (2004).
U.S.C.S. 501; 38 C.F.R. 4.16 (2004).
This practice guideline is supported by a cooperative agreement (#H235K00002) with the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. This practice guideline was developed by Alan P. Fugleberg.
American Indian Disability Technical Assistance Center
Funded by grant #H235K000002 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration