Counseling for Veterans: The Role of Rehabilitation Counselors

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under MAC

When members of the U.S. military branches complete their service, they often require assistance as they readjust to civilian life. This is especially so for those who have a physical or emotional disability related to their service.

  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 21.8% of the 18.3 million military veterans in the U.S. have a service-related disability, including 25.1% of the 1.6 million women veterans.
  • The rate of employment for veterans is much lower than that for non-veterans: 44.2% versus 61.2%.
  • Veterans represent 10% of the U.S. adult population but account for 16% of the homeless population.

In recent decades, military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the number of veterans who need the assistance of rehabilitation counseling for veterans. Rehabilitation counseling services designed specifically for veterans address the unique challenges these men and women face in returning to work and leading independent lives.

Veterans in a group counseling session.

Counseling services for veterans who need assistance transitioning to employment and other aspects of their post-military lives are available through several VA-sponsored rehabilitation programs. Rehabilitation counselors have the education, training and skills needed to help veterans and others overcome their disabilities.

The Vital Role of Rehabilitation Professionals in Counseling for Veterans

Rehabilitation counselors are uniquely qualified to assist veterans in their transition to civilian life, especially veterans who have a service-related disability. The profession emerged in the years following World War I as tens of thousands of U.S. veterans returned from Europe with disabilities that impaired their ability to find employment.

Veterans who have experienced physical injuries and psychological and emotional trauma in their time of service may qualify for disability compensation based on their disability rating. They often qualify for services offered by the VA’s Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services office, which include physical and occupational therapy and polytrauma and traumatic brain injury (TBI) care.

Rehabilitation counselors work with other health care professionals and government officials to coordinate the care and counseling that veterans require. Programs that offer one-to-one and group counseling for veterans address a variety of areas, including:

  • Social skills and assertiveness
  • Attention, memory, problem-solving and other cognitive skills
  • Community living and reintegration
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Illness management and recovery
  • Vocational training

Programs Available to Facilitate Counseling Services for Veterans

The VA sponsors several services to help veterans in need of physical or emotional rehabilitation as they transition to civilian life, including care for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), transition and employment services such as the Post-9/11 Transition and Case Management (TCM) and Disabled Transition Assistance Program, and various education and training benefits.

Two VA-sponsored programs focus specifically on employment and vocational rehabilitation: Veteran Readiness Employment (VR&E) and Compensated Work Therapy (CWT).

Veteran Readiness and Employment

This program, previously called Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, is sometimes referred to as “Chapter 31” after the U.S. Code that authorizes it. VR&E assists veterans and active-duty service members who are transitioning from the military because of a service-related disability. It provides the following services, among others:

  • Employment evaluation and job training
  • Rehabilitation planning and vocational counseling
  • Resume writing
  • On-the-job training, internships and nonpaid work experience
  • Postsecondary education (college, vocational, technical or business)
  • Case management, counseling and medical referrals

The program is available to veterans with at least a 20% disability rating who meet the criteria for an employment handicap, or at least a 10% disability rating who meet the criteria for a serious employment handicap.

In addition to employment assistance and job training, the program reimburses participants for supplies and equipment. Its five “tracks to employment” for disabled veterans are reemployment, rapid access to employment, self-employment, independent living services and employment through long-term services.

Compensated Work Therapy

This program assists veterans who are living with physical or mental impairments to find jobs in their communities that allow them to live independently. The program’s services are available to all veterans who receive health care through the VA and who face an obstacle in finding or retaining employment. These are among the programs that fall under the CWT umbrella:

  • CWT Transitional Work (TW) is a pre-employment service that offers work assignments that are supervised as they would be on the job.
  • CWT Supported Employment (SE) is for veterans whose disability is so severe it prevents them from functioning independently in a work setting.
  • CWT Community-Based Employment Services (CBES) is less intensive than Supported Employment and employs veterans at job sites while they receive clinical treatment for their disabilities.
  • CWT Supported Self-Employment (CSE) helps veterans learn the skills required to work for themselves, including training, networking and business skills.
  • CWT Supported Education (SEd) supports veterans as they participate in education and training programs, and it helps them plan and realize their education goals.
  • Vocational Assistance encompasses a range of short-term programs that guide and counsel veterans as they prepare to seek employment, including interviewing and job expectations.

Rehabilitation Counselor Qualifications: Education, Skills and Certificates

Rehabilitation counselors teach people new skills that help them achieve their goals, whether they are starting a career, learning to live independently or transitioning from military to civilian life. They play many roles as they help establish their clients in the community and work with many government officials and health care workers to support each client’s treatment plan.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that for most employers, a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field is required for rehabilitation counselor positions. Important areas of study are assessment and evaluation, the medical and psychosocial aspects of disabilities, and the dynamics of addiction. Among the skills rehabilitation counselors need to meet the needs of veterans who are making the adjustment to civilian life are compassion, listening, critical thinking and patience.

State licensing requirements for rehabilitation counselors vary based on the type of services offered.

  • When counseling services are provided to clients and patients, a state counselor license is necessary. Licenses typically require 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised work experience in clinical settings.
  • When only vocational rehabilitation or job placement services are provided, the work may be exempt from state licensing requirements.

Many organizations require or prefer that candidates for rehabilitation counselor positions have Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. CRC certification entails having a master’s degree or being a student in a master’s degree program, passing an exam and meeting other eligibility requirements.

In Service to Veterans Who Have Served Their Country

The demand continues to grow for rehabilitation counselors who can help veterans coping with disabilities to establish their post-service careers and lead independent lives. A master’s degree in counseling serves as the foundation for a career as a rehabilitation counselor.

Learn about how the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Arts in Counseling with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Counseling helps prepare students for a career helping veterans and others recover from physical and emotional trauma. Take the first step toward a rewarding career helping those who have served today.

Recommended Readings

What Is a Rehabilitation Counselor?

How to Become an Addiction Counselor

What Is Community Health?

Sources:, “Mental Health Resources for Veterans”

Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Certification Guide

Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, Get Certified

Indeed, “How to Become a Rehabilitation Counselor: Education Requirements and Licensure (Plus Job Outlook)”

Military OneSource, “VA Benefits for Disabled Veterans and Service Members

Military Wallet, “Veterans Readiness and Employment Program Helps Vets Re-enter the Workforce”

National Veterans Foundation, “Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Information and Resources”

Onlinetherapy, “Online Therapy for Veterans”

PayScale, Average Rehabilitation Counselor Salary

Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment, “Research Summary: A Roadmap for Rehabilitation Counseling to Serve Military Veterans with Disabilities”

Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment, “Vocational Rehabilitation Services for Veterans with Disabilities — Factsheet”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rehabilitation Counselors

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors, Chapter 2: Service Connected Disabilities

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Information for Veterans — Compensated Work Therapy

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Occupational Therapy Mental Health

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Post-9/11 Transition and Case Management

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)