Today we have the pleasure of hosting a guest writer and former infantry officer who will write about his experience with the vocational rehabilitation program or what is now called the veteran readiness and employment program.
Carl Rios is an Enterprise Cloud Architect for DoD accounts at Oracle Corporation and was previously an Infantry Officer in the United States Army for five years. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor’s of Science in International History with Thesis. As a Soldier for Life, he continues to serve the US Military by helping DoD agencies and branches meet the DoD CIO mandate to move to the cloud and enable them to modernize and improve IT infrastructure to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and enable AI/ML and Modern Data Warehouse practices with cloud solutions. In his free time he enjoys trying to win in his Fantasy Football League, taking walks and hikes with his wife and son, volunteering for his church, and eating good food.
My time in the Army was done. The Medical board blindsided me. I thought I’d be in for ten, twenty years. I was in for five and I was spending the last year struggling to “set the conditions” for my transition out from the Army and into the civilian world. I didn’t know if I was going to get access to the GI Bill. At the time, I wasn’t yet eligible, and if I would be, I was barely making the cut for it.
I had to listen in SFL-TAP for every detail. That’s when I learned about the VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment VA education program for the first time. It seemed like a good fit…too good to be true. Though I didn’t know it then, this program would save me $9,000 and allow me to acquire some skills and gain qualifiers that I believe were crucial in getting the job that I have now.
It all started with me going to Marylin’s office – she was a Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator – to get more info on the program and the process. She came back into the office after heating up her water for tea. We were ready to get started.
Vocational Rehabilitation, now known as Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), is a program that’s separate from the GI Bill for Service Members (SM) with service connected disabilities to help them transition to civilian employment. As long as you have a 10% disability rating from the VA, you qualify for this program. This gives you access to qualified resources and training depending on what industry and job that you are trying to get into. You also don’t have to wait until you’re out of the military as service members may qualify to start receiving VR&E during their transition out of the military. This was good for my situation – I had a bachelor’s of science in history and I was an infantry officer with the intent of pursuing a career in data science.
In my position at the time, it wasn’t looking good. I did not even qualify for an entry level position.
I needed to skill up. I found a program that could help (this was a risk at the time since there were so many and it was hard to gauge the caliber). It was the Data Science Certificate Program at Georgetown School of Continuing Studies. I was hopeful.
But how was I going to pay for it? What’s more, my nine-year old laptop had stopped working a year ago. I was going to have to drop a lot of money and go into debt in order to afford this program and a new laptop. And what’s worse, I was already working on trying to get financially stable and aggressively working on reducing my debt.
I had to think about my son and my wife. What risks I could take? What leaps of faith were worth taking?
Fortunately, the risk was vastly reduced with VR&E. I just had to focus on getting into the program, hustling to learn my new craft, look for jobs, and prep for interviews. As you can see, it was a lot to carry. But at least I didn’t have to worry about paying for it. VR&E paid for both the data science certificate program and the MacBook Pro that I used for the coursework.
In order to get the funds for the laptop, I had to talk with my VR&E Counselor and help her fill out the request with adequate reasons to justify the expenditure. It was easy because I needed a laptop for developers for the courses that I would be taking and I needed to take those courses in order to be competitive to get a job in data science. It was important to keep all of these requests within a relative scope that answers the question: “Will these courses/computers/etc. help me get a job as a data scientist?”
In order to get funds, I needed to be able to answer “Yes” with a qualified reason.
That’s one part of the VR&E that needs to be kept in mind. While the GI Bill has no limitation on what you could use your earned GI Bill on (so long as it is on an approved VA Vendor list where they make sure that you are not getting scammed by a for-profit group), the VR&E benefit requires that any resources that are given to you are centered around getting you a job that you have little or no skills in all while keeping your disabilities in mind.
This is great for service members who were in combat arms branches and occupations. Skills translators for an Army Infantryman (11B) result with police officer, corrections officer, and school bus driver. While some people may want to pursue these jobs, others may want more options. I did not want to go into law enforcement (nor could I with my medical condition) and I did not have want to become a history professor (nor did I have a doctorate in history to make that realistic). Some service members may want to go to trade school or get other professional training and certifications or go to college to skill up. I was someone who wanted to get savvy in data science which required getting savvy in IT.
Some service members or veterans may not even know what they want to do after the military. This may be especially true for those who are in the middle of a medical board for separation or medical retirement. VR&E also provides services to help service members assess their skill set and narrow down the options for what jobs they want to pursue. They can even assess your current plan and give you a reality check on how realistic your goals and plans are. All veterans using the VR&E benefit have to build a plan with their VR&E coordinator that outlines their current situation and skills, what job they want to pursue, and what skills or qualifiers that they are lacking for that job as well as identifying the plan is to bridge those gaps.
The VR&E program was a huge enabler for my military transition and I would recommend it to all service members with a disability rating. For more information and a list of VR&E Counselors in your region that you could reach out to in order to begin the conversation, please visit their website:
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