41. How to use Chapter 31 Veterans Readiness and Employment benefits with Max

September 07, 2022

41. How to use Chapter 31 Veterans Readiness and Employment benefits with Max
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The Scuttlebutt Podcast - The podcast for service members and veterans building a life outside the military.

In this episode, Brock talks with Max.

Max is a Veterans Readiness and Employment counselor with the VA. While in the Marine Corps, Max participated in two combat deployments which were formative in his desire to give back to the veteran community. We discuss his learnings about what veterans truly need after service, how to find and pursue what you're most passionate about in life, and a in depth discussion of how to use Chapter 31 Veterans Readiness and Employment benefits.


Veterans Readiness and Employment


(2:10) - Joining the Marine Corps and why it wasn't a career

(06:20) - Takeaways from the corps and how to carry yourself now as a veteran

(13:25) - Words of caution on veteran service organizations

(25:35) - Finding a passion for veterans

(29:19) - Transitioning out of service, working at the Dept. of Veteran Affairs, and creating yourself a job

(37:34) - Deductive reasoning to work yourself back into finding purpose

(42:15) - Introduction to Chapter 31, Veterans Readiness and Employment

(54:05) - Benefits offered on Chapter 31

(01:20:05) - How to apply and expectations of enrolling in benefits

(01:33:15) - The right way to approach chapter 31 benefits from service member's perspective

(01:40:45) - Veterans need accountability

The Scuttlebutt Podcast features discussions on lifestyle, careers, business, and resources for service members. Show host, Brock Briggs, talks with a special guest from the community committed to helping military members build a successful life, inside and outside the service.

Get a weekly episode breakdown, a sneak peek of the next episode and other resources in your inbox for free at https://scuttlebutt.substack.com/.

Follow along:    
• Brock: @BrockHBriggs      
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• Send me an email: scuttlebuttpod1@gmail.com


Brock Briggs  0:00  

Hello and welcome to the Scuttlebutt podcast, the podcast for those looking to build a life outside the service. I'm your host, Brock Briggs and today I'm speaking with a gentleman named Max. Max works with Veterans Readiness and Employment at the VA. This program is also known as Chapter 31 and formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation. I've been looking forward to this conversation for some time for two reasons. Max's my Chapter 31 counselor and I've been working with him for the last year or so getting through the process. The first part of this interview was a chance for me to hear a bit of his story and why he's in the position that he's in. He is a former Marine and participated in multiple combat deployments, which were very formative in his desire to give back to the veteran community. The second reason is to do a comprehensive deep dive into how to use Chapter 31 benefits from start to finish. 

Chapter 31, like most veteran benefits, seems straightforward but I've never actually spoken with somebody who's used them before. I've learned a bit about going through the process, but like most things military related, it's helpful to hear the nuances and details from an expert and somebody who's done it before. We spend an upwards of an hour talking about the requirements to use Chapter 31, the benefits offered, the training timeline, and the best way to prepare to use these benefits from a service member's perspective. My mission with this podcast is to help and prepare military members for their lives outside the military. I believe minute for minute, this episode provides the largest tangible benefit of any episode I’ve recorded to date. Please enjoy this conversation on Veterans Readiness and Employment with Max.

Brock Briggs

I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. Like I was just saying a few minutes ago, I have never really had the chance to like talk to you about something non VA related before. So I think that this will be like a good opportunity to get to know you a little bit better. Can you start out with maybe talking about like what led you to join the service? I guess just generally. And like what branch, I think I know that you were in the Navy. But that's really about the extent of my knowledge.

Max  2:31  

Okay. Yeah. So I grew up in Washington and wanted a sense of purpose, a sense of family, and a sense of belonging. And so I said, well, I'll join the hardest service to be a part of and so I enlisted in the Marine Corps, and was infantry as a rifleman 0311. I was with the first battalion fifth Marines from 2002 to 2007. And so I deployed twice in combat zones, and one on a float from Japan. So definitely got my fill of the Marine Corps experience in a wartime situation. But it was, I don't regret it one bit. If people asked me, would you do it again? Absolutely. I would.

Brock Briggs  3:24  

If you don't like have any kind of regrets or would do it again, what led to you wanting to get out?

Max  3:32  

So the reason I got out was mostly because I had, we had lost a lot of guys when we were in and I say, guys, because in our infantry units, we don't have female Marines in the infantry. So we have lost a lot of people and just saw a lot of things and going back from, you know, combat deployment mindset to the garrison mindset, where you're brushing your shoes, you know, and you're dressing your uniforms, you're doing inspections, it was a completely different mentality. And it was hard to transition back to that. I mean, I got out honorably. I did get in the Marine Corps, but just wanted to get out and enjoy life and the freedoms that we have in this country. And you know, when you go and you play other places, you don't get to see, you don't have that same privilege. So I wanted to be able to have that opportunity.

Brock Briggs  4:29  

I think that that's a very common thread. I identify and also kind of desired that sense of agency back. And even from a different perspective, being out on a boat versus like where you are, you're kind of like locked into a certain place and it kind of feels like you don't really have control over your decisions, I think.

Max  4:56  

Yep. You're just told what to do, what to eat, where to sleep, you know. 

Brock Briggs  5:00  

Yeah, well, the weird thing is that's fine for some people like that. And that's one of the things that I have, like over the course of doing this podcast is I have had kind of a realization in myself talking to people, like some people really want that. And that's okay. Like, I think I got out and really had maybe a chip on my shoulder a little bit about, oh, like, you know, who wouldn't want like their freedom of like doing whatever they want when they want back? 



Brock Briggs

And everybody, that was just very short sighted of me and kind of, I don't know. You don't really know what other people want.

Max  5:48  

Yeah, and it's like as you get older and you get out and you start talking with people on the civilian side, where you do have the opportunity to do so. I feel like you grow quite a bit. You know, because you start realizing that the mentality is completely different, and there's goods and bads. But I think if you can take both, and just kind of mold yourself in a way that you can be a part of the community and part of your family, I think that's the best transition anybody can hope for.

Brock Briggs  6:19  

What do you think you hold on to today that you took from the service like that was very valuable? Some people, it's work ethic. You know, you said you joined for that sense of purpose. That's like a very common answer. I might ask for a little bit more from you than that. Not that that's not a good enough answer, but just kind of dig into it a little bit more.

Max  6:43  

Yeah. So I know a lot of people depending on what they did in the military really identify as a Marine. I hold true to just doing the best at what you do. Always asking questions, trying to do better, leaving things better than what you got it kind of mentality and making things work. I don't know. I just think striving to do my best. I really didn't have that kind of mentality before the Marine Corps and then getting in, and always being pushed to be the best all the time. I always tried to do that. But I think the one thing that I didn't take from the Marine Corps, which I'm grateful for, is the ego part of it. 

So you know, most Marines that I know and I'm friends with are egocentric. So it's all about, you know, I'm a Marine, I'm better than everybody. And, you know, they kind of lead with their ego. And typically the other way around, and more like the, I don't know, if you've ever watched, I think it's called what is it? Men of Valor? It's this navy seal movie. And one of the the interviews that they did the guy, the captain that the head guy for the SEAL team and said, you know, I think that the best way to always present our field is like that noetic quality because it's better to be a support to someone rather than trying to lead them if that makes sense.

Brock Briggs  8:16  

Yeah, I think that that the ego thing is certainly not specific to the Marines. There's plenty of that and all the other branches, I think. But I understand. I went to school with some Marines. The Navy and Marines are together for ACE school for aviation. 



Brock Briggs

And so there was a lot of kind of intermingling there and recently gotten to interact with a lot of like, current and former Marines and it's a little bit of a different breed.

Max  8:49  

Yeah, it is. I always either one. I either get confused for being Air Force because I can articulate myself well. And I typically don't lead again with the, like a strong fist, but you know, you use it when you have to. But yeah no, it's interesting, definitely, you know. And what I'm doing now, you get to interact with every level of the military. I've worked with everyone from a private to generals in our programs. So it's definitely a wide spectrum of people you get to work with, so.

Brock Briggs  9:28  

What do you think is, not to get too deep on you here like right off the jump, but what do you think is the key to maintaining composure that supports being ready to use the force or whatever you wanna call that when you need it? But predominantly, just keeping your composure and not just I guess, I don't know if you wanna call it like ruling with an iron fist or, you know, whatever you wanna call that. What do you think people ought to kind of think about or embody and how to do that?

Max  10:07  

So the best way I have learned is always listen more than you speak. And I know that's a cliche, but I really do believe in that. The best attribute that I tell people, especially veterans more than most, and I'll tell you an interesting statistic in vocational rehabilitation is the level of entitlement and if you've ever heard that term. But the level of entitlement that people build, like they're owed something that two populations that have the highest level of entitlement are veterans and individuals who are exiting the justice system. And so when you, because I used to work for state Voc Rehab, doing the same thing, and when we'd have conversations, the one attribute that a lot of them lacked was humility. 

Because if you're not willing and able to look at another perspective or to put in your dues or be humbled to the opportunities, your approach and your candor is completely different. So that's the one thing that I've learned the most in helping everyone that I've worked with, and my personal and professional kind of approach is always be unassuming. And it's not in a manipulative way to sway them. But it's more of, be unassuming in the fact that if you can help learn the situation better, help the person that you're working with, or the organization you're working with, it's such a better approach and there's more collaboration, and you kind of build that synergy a lot easier. Does that answer your question? I'm sorry, if that kind of swayed out a little bit.

Brock Briggs  11:51  

No, that's good. This is, like I said, this is open forum. We don't have to go, sometimes I like to ask questions that may not have answers, so. But it's just to kind of like explore the topic a little bit and kind of see what people's approach and thinking is. I think that to complement one of the things that you said, just in terms of how you tried to carry yourself is like you said earlier, you're trying to like always be the best that you can at something. And I think that that embodies a learner mindset. 

And when people have a learning mindset, they are automatically more humble than average in a way that like kind of as the more that you learn and the more you know, the more you realize you don't know, kind of. So you're very like, you know, everybody that I've ever talked to, they are like the smartest people I've ever met. They've read like 1000s of books. They're like, super, super smart. And they just like, you know, they're ready to chime in with answers and like things like that, but they're not gonna be in your face about it.

Max  13:04  

Right, yeah. And the way it led me to kind of like after getting out of the military. And coming to Idaho, which by the way, the only reason I knew Idaho was here because I had a friend who lived here. I came here on a pre-deployment combat league. So I'm like, I'm gonna visit somewhere I've never been. Came here, I think it was like in 2003. Loved it, ended up moving out here in 2007 after I got out. But when I got out, of course, you know, I got this like mentality of like, oh, you're a combat veteran. You know, that entitlement is there. But I didn't know how to navigate it. 

And so connecting with the nonprofits, with organizations that help veterans and what I came to realize, and this is where I've like always trying to be the best or trying to understand things. I started realizing that as I was getting in and I wanted to give back to the veteran community, that what people were saying they were doing at face value wasn't checking. Like the line of how they were doing it and the organization behind it didn't make sense. So I started asking questions. And so as I was going through school under vocational rehabilitation at the time, I was in these organizations and I started doing backwards math. I started looking at well, how are you actually providing these services? Were they redundant? 

Are these you know, is the evidence or the research showing this is going to be the best avenue with this population? Because what I was finding is that all the efforts and time that I was spending was not as effective as it could be. Because you were meeting people that really didn't need the help and the people that didn't need the help weren't asking for it. So I wanted to learn how to do it better and so learning and continually building that knowledge I think. And this is for any veteran that, you know, when you go to school and you hear the word statistics, and you're like, please God, no. I'm telling you right now, my favorite course that I took in college period was statistics. And you start taking it, and I'm like, oh, this is a bunch of like weird math. 

But when you get into it, you start realizing how data, which everything is driven by data, how it is aggregated into different systems, and how they present that data in a way that sways it that supports what they wanna do. So you start asking backwards questions of like what kind of population did you do the survey on? How many people was it? What was the demographics? And start looking at these questions, you're like, okay, is this really accurate? And so, like you said, I think when you had made the mention, the more you learn, the less you know. You start realizing when when people say, well, this research studies say this shows this and I'm like, well, actually there's this famous saying, statistic correlation is not causation. So that's where you really stand back and not like, be so quick to say, oh, yep, no, this research says this. And so

Brock Briggs 



I hope that was helpful.

Brock Briggs  16:15  

What types of organizations were you working with? Or that are you talking about that were kind of saying things that you thought maybe were like the intent was kind of too, it wasn't accurate?

Max  16:31  

Are you wanting specific names? Or are you just wanting just what did the organizations do?

Brock Briggs  16:37  

Well, I have both, if you want. If you don't wanna give out names, that's fine. We're not here to like trash anybody, but I just am like, I guess, to kind of like dig into I guess what you're talking about a little bit more. 

Max  16:53  

Okay. So here in Idaho and I'm not going to use specific names. But I think if people really wanted to dig to find out who these people were, you can. So local or nonprofit organizations around here, one of them was Motorcycle Association. There was another one that was an associate, was a nonprofit organization that helps veterans professionally develop and being successful in the civilian world, and transferring from the military side. And so what I started realizing when I was going through these organizations is when they're vetting, processing, asking veterans who they are, what they did, why they're there, and what their intention is, and moving forward. 

And so in the local organizations that I was starting to get into, I started realizing one it was either a drinking club, so you know, alcoholism is a culture in the military, you know, cross service. But I mean, I think, you know, when you have veterans that haven't successfully transitioned, you have veterans that are dealing with depression, and you have veterans that are dealing with like a wide array of issues. Having a drinking club really probably isn't that going to be the best avenue. And so seeing that, like changing that culture and understanding, well, if you're gonna support this mission, how are you gonna do this in a way that really is going to help veterans and not just, you know, have a CAGR on the weekend. 

So that was one of the things that I recognized was a big issue, the overhead. So when I started doing backwards math and I started realizing, well, okay, if you guys are receiving this many donations, what percentage of that money is actually going to veterans? Because to me, I have, you know, a sensitivity to if you're gonna do so, if you say you're doing something, be transparent in how you're doing it. Because if people that are either their retirement or their money that they're working hard for are going to donate towards veterans, don't throw it away to an organization that, for example, has a 96% overhead. 

So for only 4% of the money that's donated by the actual sponsors is going to veterans and so I have a problem with that. I feel that's somebody creating a secondary income for them rather than really wanting to help veterans, so just really seeing how people are doing it, what the overhead is. And I will tell you, I didn't know we stopped and just complaining and saying, oh, that overhead is way too high. I would actually come in and I'd help reorganize and say hey, if you organize this way and you set these salaries here, you could really put the percentage towards this but nobody wanted to hear it. It was all about how many veterans can we get in there? Let's find the ones that are the most physically or visibly injured so we can put them on our posters and raise money. 

I've gotten to a couple altercations with high ranking Navy personnel locally because they thought we were still in the Navy and saying, oh, you don't know what you're talking about. And then we would have a conversation like, no, I wanna help veterans. So that was one instance, other instances that I didn't really like. And these are really the larger organizations like the really like the nationwide organizations that help wounded veterans. I went to a couple of their retreats to kind of see what they were about. And everything that I heard them talk about, none of it was about how can I better myself, you know, how are you doing? It's how can I get a higher percentage rating? How can I get this? You know, nothing is good enough for me here. 

And this mindset was such a maladaptive way to progressing to a better place mentally, if that makes sense. So just the culture, it was just a different feeling. And so I wasn't really impressed with a lot of nonprofits, the ones that I will, and I'll say their names. America's fund and Semper Fi fund, probably one of the best run nonprofits that I've seen. I've talked to them about their overhead, and they actually have a very low overhead. They have really good individuals. And they present their information in a way that it's not redundant. So when I mean redundant, a lot of nonprofit veteran organizations will say we do this for our veterans, we do this for our veterans and all these things. But if you really look at it, everything that they do is provided by the VA, whether it's Post 9/11, Voc Rehab, or if it's provided to the VA Medical Center, if that makes sense. So I think just being not skeptical, but being analytical and what the organization is doing and how they're doing it, I felt was important.

Brock Briggs  22:07  

Every veteran is gonna be like, oh, we need more veteran resources, we need this, we need that. And there are so many that kind of I don't wanna say claimed to do a lot. But it almost appears optically that there are many VSOs, or whatever you want to call them. There's a whole bunch of different types of nonprofits, that they kind of do exactly what you say. They raised a bunch of money. And like the impact, it's really about impact. It's like, what's happening with that if you're giving you know, 20 people jobs, that's great. But like, are you actually kind of fulfilling what it is that you're going after? So what do you think are some ways like that you can suss out organizations that like really kind of have aligned interest? You said to kind of like, be analytical, but gotta take that another step.

Max  23:06  

Yeah. So I actually have had somebody asked me this question. And that took me a while to figure out how I did it. But I figured out how to do it. So I will tell you working for the VA, the VA has their weaknesses, for sure. And it has their strengths. But in regards to the research, the resources and the time, like the VA has been around for more than, you know, 100 years. And so when you're talking about an organization that has that many resources, and all you're doing is bashing the VA, I am skeptical. And the reason I say I'm skeptical, because if you're saying the VA is not meeting a need in some way, how are they not meeting the need? And how are you bridging it, right?

So I always, the best organizations that I've seen that have actually contacted and worked with the VA to collaborate and figure out where the weaknesses are. Because if you really look at the VA, VA is socialized health care. Like if America really wanted to see what health care looks like, socialized health care looks like, it's the VA because we're not like the private sector where you can instantly push the pendulum and say, oh, we've got this demand. Now we need all those physicians in this pay and these resources. It takes years to propose budgets and how are you gonna organize that. So for the nonprofits, that if they should be essentially working themselves out of what they do, and what I mean by that if like, for example, in my job, like if I'm working with a veteran trying to get them a job, my job is to get them to the point where they're successful in their career. 

And then I don't have a job to provide them because I'm doing that job. Nonprofits should be doing the same thing. So if you're a nonprofit that says for example, you're doing professional development. But you're providing platforms in a way that are just a pipeline to present to sponsors and you're not seeing a high placement rate for employment, then you really have to answer that question. So I always say, nonprofits should be collaborating. If they're not collaborating within the community or within the VA, then I think there's a secondary game to it. That's at least a pattern that I've seen.

Brock Briggs  25:33  

What gave you the passion you have for kind of giving back to the community?

Max  25:42  

So that goes back to one of my mentors and people that I really looked up to. And if anybody ever wants to, you can look him up. So his name was Captain Maloney, Captain John Maloney. And so when we were in Ramadi, which was a horrible, horrible place. Captain Maloney was the embodiment of a leader was he didn't lead by yelling, he led by example. And the example that I will give you is that we as a unit in Ramadi went on, I think, like over 230 patrols within a seven month period. And we did more patrols than in any other unit in that area. Out of those patrols up until the time that he got killed, he was going out on every patrol with us walking on the ground with us. 

And I remember vividly seeing him, like after doing like a 24 hour op. And then we got back where our eyes are red. We're tired, you know, sweaty. He's sitting on the HESCO barrier, his eyes are deep red, and he is exhausted. He's got his head down, he puts his head down for five minutes. And then another unit, another patrol was going out, and he gets back up. And he walks out with them. And I remember our first sergeant like, what are you doing? He's like, I can't ask my Marines to go out and do something that I can't do myself. It is my responsibility to make sure they get back safe. And so that's what he did a majority of the deployment. And I had never seen that ever in NCOs, lieutenants. Everybody revered him because he expected more from you all the time. 

And so I kind of took that because he served the people below him. He had a servitude type mentality with his unit. And we had the best unit. And he I think he actually got like a really high commendation from the Department of Defense, you know, proximately, after he had gotten killed. But I wanted to be able to give that back and we had other guys that we had lost as well. And I felt like it would be a disservice or disrespect to them to sit back and drink beer, complain about how things aren't good enough when they didn't have the opportunity to do it with their family. So I kind of took that and turned it around and says, how can I help veterans? And so started out doing it just basic in the community. And then you start realizing how can I do this better? And you just keep evolving.

Brock Briggs  28:25  

I don't think that our country is short on veterans who want to kind of sit on the sidelines and throw bombs at how bad the system is and or how bad the services or anything, and it's really hard to buy into it. The sad thing is a lot of people do buy into it and hear it. There are plenty of issues. But it's hard for me to kind of like put stock in those things that people say if they're not willing to at least do something about it. You may not be able to fix these major problems, but why not like try and do something positive about it?

Max  29:10  

Yep, I agree.

Brock Briggs  29:13  

You kind of have hinted a couple times about like your transition out of the service. Was that a difficult time for you if you don't mind sharing?

Max  29:25  

Yeah, yeah, it was. So when I got out in the Marine Corps, like our culture was drinking. Like, that's all we did, like we played hard, we worked hard, and you know, we lost people. But that was the mentality we had. So trying to do that in the civilian world doesn't really work. And so getting out and working hard and realizing the civilian and I don't mean this for the like society as a whole. But when you're in the working class, at least from what I found, when I transitioned, that was a hard transition because people didn't care what I did, where I went, that I was just there to do a job. And if I did the job better than they did, then they disliked me because of, if that makes sense. 

So you're young and you're full of, you know, energy, and you want to do things really well and the civilian world did not recognize, did not like at least my counterparts did not like that I was willing to come in and work harder not to disrespect them just that was the way I work. And so I dealt with a lot of issues. And I will tell you, the TAP program back then, like when stuff was really going on with combat, there was no. In my opinion, the handoff with the VA was horrible. You had that tap briefing, and they say don't hate your wives, don't drink and drive, don't do drugs. That was like the biggest tenants, I remember hearing. 

And that's it. And then you're out. They don't tell you about how to submit a claim for VA Disability if you have them. And you know how to get connected to get medical care, like they don't say any of that. And so I had to find out through the community of other people, you know. And it was here, the National Guard that I had heard about it, and I'm like, oh, you should do this. And so that's when I started my process and working with the VA to get service connected. And even that, it was really difficult.

Brock Briggs  31:28  

When did you go on to start working at the VA?

Max  31:33  

So that's a good question. So initially, I was going through a community college here locally. And I was getting my associates under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but I was struggling academically. I wasn't failing by any means, but I wasn't doing very well. And I just didn't know how to do anything like in regards to learning new things. And so after connecting with the VA and doing occupational therapy, speech therapy and working with neurologists to figure out how to relearn. I then got connected with a veteran's representative with the VA. They're called Veterans Success on Campus. That's what it used to be called. But essentially, they're counselors that are on campus at the universities to help veterans transition. And I met this individual who helped me kind of work through what I was doing. 

And you know, what my interests were and kind of did an initial evaluation and found out through my interest and aptitude assessment that I had a knack for the social sciences and more specifically vocational rehabilitation because that's what he did. And so when he told me what it was and I started doing my research, I realized that I really found a lot of purpose through employment. So it doesn't have to be employment, but having a purpose provides a center point to help veterans transition out. And it did for me, and I know a lot of people do as well. Sounds like, no, that's what I wanna do. And I was like, oh, how am I gonna do that? And so I started doing like, I always work deductively. So I work backwards. So I'm like, well, what do I wanna do? Who do I wanna work with? I knew I wanted to work with veterans. Like that was my end goal on like, well, how do I work with veterans? Well, you gotta work for the VA. 

And so after doing that and talking with this gentleman, I asked him. I said, well, when's the last time the VA hired a counselor for VR&E here in Boise? And he's like, well, it's been about 15 years. And so I'm like, well, I am gonna be struggling because that's a hard job to get when they haven't hired in the last 15 years. And so I worked through school. I upped my GPA, changed my degree path to from like medicine to psychology. And then I went through college, Western Idaho, then I went to NNU and I did Northwest Nazarene University, got my undergrad in psychology, but my major was in statistics and research. 

And then from there, I got accepted to the University of Idaho doing rehabilitation counseling. And so after I finished my undergrad, I went and worked for state, the state of Idaho doing vocational rehabilitation for anybody in the community that has a disability and learn the basics and kind of paid my dues on the state level because it's not an easy job. And probably about a year and a half end, went and talked with the VA and propositioned them to develop my own internship because I had never done one. And it took a huge pay cut and did an internship for about two years and worked as inexpensive labor I like to call it, and learned all of their policies. I read their entire manual. 

I read everything in every paper that I ever wrote in my graduate program, and all the presentations and all the research that I did, from my undergraduate all the way through my graduate was for the veteran population. So I was like working backwards on how to do it better and figuring out, you know, how does it be as marketable as possible, but how to be a good counselor and have some validity to what we do. So we got the fortunate opportunity. Two weeks after I finished my undergrad, sorry, my graduate program, and was offered a position with VR&E. And so I've been here since 2018. And still working here. Yeah.

Brock Briggs  36:10  

That's such a story and you're hungry. Like



Brock Briggs 

That is so, I love stuff like that. People who like are not deterred by just the like, oh, like, you can't do that type thing. It's like, no, you found the closed door and you'd like you beat it down with a bat. Like, that's, we're gonna find a way in here. Creating an internship, like that's so cool.

Max  36:41  

Well, and I knew it was gonna be an uphill battle because the people that I worked with that state, I always call state Voc Rehab my home because that's where I learned my basics. I learned how to case manage because their case loads are about 100, 120, 130. Ours right now, we're about that now at the VA. But the people that work there are amazing people. And they're extremely talented. And I knew at least a third to two thirds of the counselors here in Idaho who were gonna apply for that position. So I knew I was up against people that were in the business for like 10, 15 years. And so I was like, I got to just learn the job the best way I can. And if I'm the most qualified then, you know, it's meant to be. And so, yeah I know, I'm grateful to be able to serve veterans, for sure.

Brock Briggs  37:33  

There are a lot of things that we could kind of spend a lot of time on there. But I think one of the most important things about that is the coming back to, you're working backwards, but you're working backwards to your like purpose driven job. And I think that that is something that is not communicated to veterans, but like just to people in general. It's like, everybody says, what do you wanna be when you grow up? And not thinking about like, hey, what will make you happy? It's all about, oh, I wanna make this amount of money, or I'm gonna go be a doctor just because I need to make $100,000 a year or whatever, it's not. Those are two separate conversations for some reason. And people kind of assume that you can find a job where you can do something that you love.

Max  38:27  

Yeah I know and I found that a lot and everyone that I work with, I always, the common thing I always hear from my veterans is, I wish I would have connected with you earlier. Because what I have found a majority of the time is veterans who utilize the post 9/11 GI Bill. And I hope, if the VA is listening to this, it's not a knock on the Post 9/11 GI Bill, there's just no oversight in regards to if schools predatory and they're providing, you know, training education that really doesn't provide the veteran anything other than a piece of paper, then they've lost their benefits that they had, and now that they're not even going to be able to utilize their degree. 

And so I think the biggest thing that I tried to do in the very front end when I'm working with veterans is humble them and what they're wanting to do. Because a lot of them and I even tell them, I was like, tell me if you either one, believe this, or two are told this. And I said, you were told that if you're a veteran and you have a degree that you go anywhere, and they have to hire you or they're going to hire you. And they're like, yeah, and you know, it's usually about 60, 40 60% I've heard it, 40% that's the truth, you know. And I said so let's turn it around. I said, if you own a business, if you own a company that you are responsible for a lot of people and their income. 

And then on top of that you have the income of your family, all the money that you invested that you have in your own family that you're putting into that business. Would you hire somebody just because they were a veteran? Or because they had a degree? And 10 times out of 10, they say no. I said you have to look at it when you come out. Like you got to know what can you provide to that company to be an asset. So you're working backwards. And so I always tell veterans, the number one mistake everybody makes in the very beginning when they're like, what do I wanna do when I grow up? They're like, well, let me go to a school and find out. And I'm like, no. I've had probably at least over a couple dozen meetings and conversations with universities where they didn't like what I said. 

And I said, look, I'm not here to advocate for the school. I'm here to advocate for the veteran. I say, if you're telling me that you're gonna provide this program that's gonna provide them the employability but I'm not seeing any data to back it up or you don't have the platform to really convey or provide that type of training, where they're gonna be an asset. I'm not gonna sit there and say, hey, I'm gonna support this veteran going to the school. I have the veteran really dig like I did. Ask the employers because the employers, that’s the person that’s gonna hire you. The school just wants you to come in the front door being enrolled and have that tuition and fees paid by the school. And it's not to say that there's not people at schools that care, that don't care. Like there's a lot of good people at universities and colleges that deeply care about veterans and bend over backwards. I see it all the time. But when you're talking about a source of data, I always say, you know, go to the employer.

Brock Briggs  41:32  

Yeah, that's absolutely true. Regardless of whether you're a veteran, every school has got a veterans office. And of course, they wanna see you there. But you know, they look at that as a guaranteed tuition. And you know, something for talking earlier about kind of their intentions with like organizations. It's like, that's another number for them to say, look how many veterans we graduated, you know, this year? And you know, that's yeah, that's not a knock against the universities. There's plenty of good ones. Boise State was very good to me. And I am thankful for that. But yeah, that might be a conversation for another day.

Max  42:12  

Yep. Yep.

Brock Briggs  42:15  

I want to get into VR&E. One of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you, there's several, but one of the main reasons is to get a comprehensive deep dive on what VR&E Chapter 31 is because as I have gone through the process, you're my counselor, I have like come to learn a lot about it just even before I started talking with you, and then learning even more working with you. I know that I still have some questions, but everybody I talked to, nobody knows anything about it. I don't even know anybody who's used it before. It sounds like you're the first person I've ever talked to that's used it. So I would love just maybe we should just start out and like talk about what is Chapter 31.

Max  43:06  

Okay, so Chapter 31 or the Veteran Readiness and Employment Program is an employment based benefit, right? So I always do this in the very beginning at the intake because the conversation in the way I ask questions and the way it flows makes sense when I introduce it this way. So Chapter 31, the VR&E program is an employment based benefit with that emphasis. So everything is based upon an employment goal. So that's how we provide services and how everything is justified is that employment goal. Post 9/11 GI Bill is an educational based benefit with that emphasis. So with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, as long as the site is certified by the VA and they're in good standing, and the veteran has benefits to be able to utilize, they can provide the school their certificate of eligibility, go to school, get their degree. 

There's no oversight, though, with the Post 9/11 GI Bill on what the program is, does it really have transferability where we call on our field reciprocity in the labor market, right? So there's no checks and balance, and people will go to school and attend under there, and you have the latitude. So if you take one semester, and you're like, oh, I don't like psychology anymore. I wanna do medical, or, you know, whatever that is. You can just, next semester, say I'm gonna change my major, right? And you can do that with the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The VR&E Chapter 31 program is different in the fact that you don't have the latitude to be able to shift that quickly. And what I'm gonna do is make it so easier to understand how the process works in our program. Is that when you apply for our program, we have to find you what's called entitled, which I hate that word. I wish they would change that one, where it's like, entitled or accepted into our programs. 

So there's criteria for that. And me being able to determine somebody entitled. And so the criteria for entitlement is that they have to have 20% service connection or 10% if they have a serious employment handicap. Now that gets into a lot of terminology. So a majority of people that we find entitled, we look at that 20% service connection criteria if they have an impairment to employment, and they haven't overcome that impairment with education, transferable skills, work history, then we can look at finding them entitled and being accepted into the program. So that's the first step. So you hear a lot of different people. And this is where, again, I'm very transparent. When you're talking about, and I'm a veteran. So I know this happens. So there's a lot of individuals that have built their nonprofit organizations. 

But they're provided quite a bit of money through YouTube, through their own website, where you can subscribe and do all these things. And all they do is bash VR&E. And all those individuals, I say 10 times out of 10 actually came through our program, and we're able to receive their education and training through our program. And so once somebody, once we look at somebody's entitlement, we have different people apply. Like, again, we have some people that were enlisted, they've never had high school, all they've had his high school diploma, they've never had any college, no training on trade schools or anything like that. And then they're struggling to find work. 

And so we have to look at well, one, how's the impairment to employment. We have to look at lists, you know, we have two different categories we really look at, there's the physical and the mental health. And so we have to look at, you know, how does that look? Are they treating? How does their current job create that impairment to employment? Are they gonna be able to do that long term? And so once we work past the point of entitlement and we've found that they have not overcome their impairment, then we then move into the evaluation and planning phase of the process where we can start looking at proposed vocational goals. So a majority of people that come in, I would say 8 times out of 10, will know what they wanna do or think they know what they wanna do. 

And so I always try to align as a counselor as close as possible to what they're wanting to do. And usually in the first meeting, if I have time, I will actually get in the weeds a little bit about their vocational goal. And the reason I do that is because I don't want to create busy work. I don't want to lead them down a path that I know that I can't support. And so the common thing that I always kind of preface when I get somebody into the program, they're entitled, they're under my caseload, then I tell them, like, look, I can do a lot of different things as a counselor to support you. But there's things that I can't do. So the same ticket that gets you in the door, which is your disability, right? Your service connection, what you're compensated for monthly, is the same ticket that provides you what shows you can watch or i.e. the vocational goal. 

So if somebody says I have, you know, I have back issues, and I'm service connected at 40%, from my back, but they wanna be a nurse or a firefighter or work for the Forest Service, I absolutely cannot support that because it is completely contradictive to their injuries and what they're being service connected for. And so one of the things that I also talk about, to my veterans as well, is whatever your service connected for at that rating, is the guidelines of what I can and cannot support. And so I've had some veterans say, well, I'm better now. And I'm like, well, you're being compensated at, you know, and so, so percent per month for that. And so if you feel you've gotten better, you can get reevaluated to have that lowered, which I told everybody like I would never want you to do because that's something that you're going to have the rest of your life. Let's look at a job that you can do long term that's not gonna worsen your service connection. 

So that's something that I kind of preface as well. And so I think the biggest confusion so far that I've seen with every veteran that I've talked with, that had this kind of approach was they're like, well, I heard this veteran got this and you know. I've heard this person, they'll support that. And I tell them, our cases, every case is individual. Every veteran that comes in, came in from a different MOS, came in with a different level of education. Every veteran presents with different strengths, limitations, and every service connection and the percentage that they're at is different for every veteran, right? And then everybody has different proposed vocational goals. So that's really differs on what people are provided in regards to that vocational goal and the pathway that we're able to provide. Does that make sense?

Brock Briggs  50:05  

Yeah, absolutely. Let me kind of sum up and just make sure I've got a good understanding here. So, Post 9/11 is education focused. You're here to get a degree training certificate, OJT, some kind of educational, and like you said, no oversight. Voc rehab is or VR&E is focused on ensuring that you get a job based on what you're desiring and ensuring that you are able to overcome your disability that your service connection percentage is hindering you from getting a job in some way. And the purpose of this is to overcome that and get you what you need. Would you say that that's right?

Max  50:56  

Yes, no, that's exactly right. It's a very, I consider it a holistic approach, right? So if you have someone that has lost jobs like 10 plus jobs over the last four years, can't hold a job more than a couple months. And they're like, oh, it's the employers fault. It's not my fault that I keep getting fired, right? And they're like, well, if I just go to school, then I can turn around and I'll be successful. I'll have my career. And I won't have to worry about this because now it's education creating the issue why I can't maintain employment, not me. So now you have this compounding problem to where they're not treating one thing, and they're thinking education is gonna overcome that, if that makes sense. 

So the VR&E program is really good for individuals that really want to have that holistic approach of if you're struggling with academics, we can send you to speech and occupational therapy at the VA Medical Center. If you're having dental issues, we can provide dental services through the VA Medical Center. If you're having issues with not getting out in the community there is recreational therapy that they have there at the VA and making sure that you're seeing your primary care provider and making sure you're connecting with everything, right? Because a lot of them, they're like, oh, I'm good, especially, you know, like, depending on the MOS and your mentality, you wanna ask for help. 

So we want you to be able to use your benefits, use them well. And my number one thing and being under my caseload, and I feel this is probably the same for my colleagues as well, is informed choice. I don't feel in the Post 9/11 GI Bill when you're going in and going to school. It's not truly an informed choice because you're trusting and the people at the school that are telling you something versus actually working through those issues and talking with somebody that will be honest and transparent with you on if that's gonna be a good route or not.

Brock Briggs  53:00  

Yeah, you're maybe have like a school counselor or like a guidance counselor who kind of like helps you with your classes or whatever. But there's really not somebody on the other end of the stick there that is helping you put together, hey, this degree is going to lead to this. So I imagine that it takes considerable understanding on your part, the caseworkers part, to really point out and like suss out, like you were saying if somebody is diagnosing the reason as their job issues as not enough education, is that actually the problem? Or is there something else? And then if it is the more education that they're pursuing, or whatever it may be, is that actually going to get them there?

Max  53:54  

Yep, nope, that's exactly right.

Brock Briggs  53:57  

Okay. No, I think that that's really helpful. That's a great kind of comparison between the two. I think it would be helpful next to kind of like, walk through what the actual benefits are, what are the things that come with Chapter 31? And then we can kind of maybe compare that to the Post 9/11. And we'll kind of go through the how to’s. But let's now that we know what it is, let's talk about what is it that this program is offering you?

Max  54:29  

Okay, so that's a really good question. So with our program and I'll talk about what we provide, and I'll tell you what the Post 9/11 does not provide because we can provide everything the Post 9/11 GI Bill can and more. So our program provides coverage for all tuition, all fees, all books and all supplies. Depending on where you're at in the country, there's a different amount that counselors will provide for supplies. So here locally in Idaho, we provide $40 per term for needed supplies. That's pens, paper, pencils, notebooks, dividers, whatever you need to be able to organize and to be able to study and to be successful in your studies. Now, if you need additional amount, now there has to be a justification. 

But our office as a whole provides that consistently. We provide coverage for tuition, so we send an authorization to the school the student is attending, and they will invoice us for the cost. And then we pay that over our system. And so that's taken care of, you don't even have to worry about that. One of the things that our program provides that the Post 9/11 GI Bill does not provide as a parking pass. So locally here in Idaho, we provide all veterans the same parking pass that are attending in class sessions at the university. And so that way, it lessens the impact financially for veterans to have to pay out of pocket to be able to attend class. Post 9/11 GI Bill does not cover that. Our program does provide a one time service and I go into this, and I think we might have when we were talking in years. We provide a computer package. 

So we help assist veterans in obtaining a computer if they don't have one or it's broken. And so I tell veterans, this is a single service item. So to help with that, we provide like a case for the computer. You know, locally here we have like printer, printer cable, things like that for you to be able to have everything you need to be able to do schooling. And so we provide that as a one time service, you can choose on the preference of what you want, Windows versus Apple. I will tell you that nationally, different states have different vendors and different packages they have selected. 

But at least from what I've seen on the West Coast and the Midwest, the packages that are provided they're not bargain basement computers to where they're gonna, you know, not last you for a year. They'll last you for at least the time that you're in school to be able to get through there and to be able to be successful. So we do provide that while you're in plan. One of the other differences that our program provides that’s different than the Post 9/11 GI Bill is in the fact that we provide what's called the Employment Assistance allowance. So when you're going in the Post 9/11 GI Bill program, you get subsistence allowance, which is your housing stipend per month while you're attending school. Once you stop attending school in the Post 9/11 GI Bill, your payment stop. Like you're done. Where our program, we can provide two months post completion of your schooling at the rate that you are paid full time while you're in school. 

So it helps you either look for work or transition into your new job for two months after you finish school. So that's one of the other big differences. One of the biggest changes in benefits for veterans and not a lot of people know about this yet. But it is something that the VR&E program is still working through because we were just recently provided this, is called what's a retroactive induction. So retroactive induction, essentially what it does is, if you go through let's say Chapter 33, right? And you get two years of your schooling done. And you get your associates, let's just say in liberal arts, and you're going to your bachelor's degree for psychology.

But that associates degree was required for you to get that bachelor's degree and you applied for our program, and you got accepted in and then we identified, let's say, social work as a suitable vocational goal. The time that you spent utilizing your Chapter 33 benefits. At the end of our program, we would be able to give you back those months of entitlement. Does that make sense? I know it's not a really clear process. But essentially, you get your months that you used in Chapter 33. Put back onto your months of entitlement if the training and education was required or was required towards your vocational goal that was deemed suitable. 

Brock Briggs  59:33  

So basically, if you are partway through a degree plan or track or whatever, and then you get accepted into the program, you can receive that back.

Max  59:45  

Yep. And there's, I mean, there's little caveats in there, but I mean, you can anybody can Google look up retroactive induction VR&E and it'll show you like the small little nuances. But overall, that's the snapshot of how that retroactive induction works. And again, this is something that occurred last year. And VR&E was fortunate enough to take this responsibility. And so we're still working through that process. But it is something that is new for our program to offer our veterans.

Brock Briggs  1:00:25  

One of the things I wanted to touch on you said, talking about the, with Chapter 31, you get that extra money after you graduate to help you transition into your. Are you saying that that implies that somebody is also getting their basic allowance for housing? Is that in addition to that?

Max  1:00:49  

so it's essentially the same amount. So let's say like right now in Boise, the in class traditional rate is $1,734 if you attend full time. That person would, then after they finish their school, and they do their 30 day appointment with a counselor, they are then if they either have the job search log, which is showing they're making an effort to look for work, or providing an update with the employment that they have. They're provided that 1734 for that month, and then another 30 days to have another appointment, and then you know, providing that documentation that's required, you get paid that second 1734. And then from there, it's progress and follow through with the counselor and the veteran, either, you know, finishing out the follow through with employment or towards closure.

Brock Briggs  1:01:46  

So it's not called like when you're on Chapter 33, the Post 9/11 you're getting, they call it BAH or like your housing money, but that's not what it's referred to, as in Chapter 31. But you are getting something.

Max  1:02:01  

Yes, it's different terminology, same thing. So Post 9/11 likes to say BAH, we always call it assistance subsistence allowance. Some people call it housing allowance, it's all the same thing. So it's a stipend that you're provided, depending on your rate of pursuit, meaning how many credits you're taking in the semester, and how long this semester is. It's based on an equivalency and we always tell veterans, you're only paid for the days you attend, right? So you can't get it for the days that you don't attend.

Brock Briggs  1:02:31  

Gotcha. One of the distinctions I think that it would be prudent to make here is the length and duration of each. So with Chapter 33, if you are 100% eligible, I forget the exact verbiage or whatever, but you're given 36 months of eligibility for that. How does that compare with what is there a timeline for this? Are you using both at the same time? Are they separate? Can you kind of explain how that works? 

Max  1:03:09  

That's a really good question. So with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you're correct, in that you get 36 months of entitlement, that it depending on the percentage that you're eligible for with your military service, which I can't remember what the exact numbers were. But I know majority of people are 100% eligible for that benefit level. And so our program, the VR&E Chapter 31 provides up to 48 months of entitlement. So that's an additional 12 months beyond what the Post 9/11 can provide. Now, you have to be mindful as a veteran if you're going to school and you're going towards a goal that may not be suitable for what your service connection is. You need to keep that in your mind if you're anticipating Voc Rehab or Chapter 31, supporting you in that. 

So as a veteran, as you're running through it, I always recommend starting in our program first because that way, you're not having to worry about any of it, and then you don't lose out on the months of entitlement. So the months that you use in our program aren't deducted from the months that you would utilize for your 33. So you'll have all of those benefits remaining when you finish our program. Now it'll eat away at that same time, but we processed and put them back at the end of our program. Does that make sense? 

Brock Briggs  1:04:33  

Yes, I think so. 

Max  1:04:35  

Okay, yeah, it's bureaucracy at its best, but ultimately, we don't use your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. You get those back.

Brock Briggs  1:04:43  

Okay. So you said that you get 12 months under this program for whatever it is that you're pursuing. Is that right?

Max  1:04:52  

Yes, an additional 12 months. Now there is the availability for an extension but I always tell my veterans when it comes to extensions, we have to get approval from the next higher level above me. And that requires a proposal which we don't have a problem writing. But the proposal has to have the justification requiring that this needs to be completed beyond the amount of months of entitlement that other veterans are provided. Does that make sense? 

Brock Briggs



So I have the latitude up to like the additional 12, which is 48 months, but anything beyond the 48 months, I have to submit a proposal, have the justification and get approval to get an extension beyond that. And they're not always approved.

Brock Briggs  1:05:41  

Better to just count on it maybe not being there. And then if it is, that's great. So you said that you encourage veterans to come and talk to you first, let's say that. I'm gonna rewind and use myself as an example, I'm getting out. I got out in 2018 and went right into school, the January of 2019. And began using my Chapter 33. What you just said is you would recommend people coming and talking to their counselor first rather than using the Chapter 33 first and then maybe coming to a counselor or applying later. Why is that?

Max  1:06:28  

So the specific reason I would provide you is informed choice, right? So when you get out and you're looking to go into a school, majority of people that I talk with, that are wanting to do this transition and use their benefits and going to school. Either one, they're told this is what you should do. A school is trying to sell them on it or they had an image of what something was, but wasn't actually sure what it really is, right? So truly, you're trying to step in into arena and utilizing benefits without informed choice. So in our program, everything has to have justification, everything has to have evidence, and it has to be unbiased. 

So using the Department of Labor, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using interest and aptitude assessments, looking at your academic transcripts, looking at your medical records, like all of these factors really contribute to what's going to be best fit for you. On top of that, you got to talk about values, you got to talk about your traits of what type of work ethic do you have? Do you like working around people? Do you like working by yourself? Do you like working with your hands? Do you like being outside? Like all these different factors, schools aren't gonna take the time because they're not trained to be able to identify what's gonna be best fit for you. 

Because in the end, it found entitled which majority people are. And they come into our program and the ones that are fortunate that come in on early. They're like, oh, yeah, my mom or my brother or my veteran friends that I should do this. And I'm glad that that we actually worked through this, did some research, talked to employers, looked at how the school actually or does not align with what I'm wanting to do. And so now I can make an informed choice, is this the best fit? And I'll give you an example. I had one veteran that was in the Coast Guard. And this individual was high in the enlisted ranks. And either retired out or closely retired out, got out and was always told, engineering is the way to go because it's a good labor market. And that's what he should do. 

And so this veteran went to school, and I previewed in him going to the school. I said, if you are not 100% in it to do math 9 out of 10 hours a day, you will struggle if you don't enjoy math. You will struggle in this program because it's one of the most arduous academic programs at this university. Within a semester, the veteran came back to me and told me, I completely underestimated this program. And realized if I would have done this any other way, it would have been a really bad track down away and I would burn all my benefits up. And so I always ask veterans, please make an informed choice with your benefits because they're not like an infinite amount of months of entitlement. So you know, depending on your age, your transferable skills, our program is really nice because it's very intentional.

Brock Briggs  1:10:02  

It seems to me like somebody coming in and starting with you guys first as you get an advocate for yourself. And your job as the counselor, if I'm kind of hearing this right is to really, you're trying to get to know us so well that you can see past that like film that we usually kind of develop about, you know, a lot of us get out, and we don't know what we wanna do. I was gonna go for electrical engineering, and I literally the same thing. I realized, I was like, oh, I don't like doing math for 10 hours a day. 

So that's what to me, in addition to the expanded benefits, like more importantly, you're getting somebody who helps you kind of get a better understanding of yourself through the personality assessments, your experience on the job. You know, you maybe didn't do engineering, but you have talked to other people who have or like, maybe you just know, hey, this is what you should be expecting. And you kind of are getting to talk to somebody who's been there and done that sort of.

Max  1:11:11  

That's exactly right. And I tell veterans, and I even tell them, so I have people that I know, on the private sector forensic side that do this. And the unique perspective that we have as counselors is that we have access to such a large array of different labor markets, different industries, different schools. And it's constantly getting information from veterans and from different providers on what that really looks like. Is this really checking out to what it says it's going to be? And so it's really nice in the fact that and I tell veterans that I wanna be proven wrong because I want to continually learn and to be up to date with the current labor market or the current research on where things are going.

And so I tell veterans, I say you can fact check me all day because you know, anybody can Google anybody these days. And I said, but it's important that if I'm wrong, let me know. So we can have that conversation because it's about collaboration. I'm gathering information from you, as you dwelve into what you wanna do vocationally. And talking with these employers and through my job, I probably know a majority of the employers locally. And I know a handful of them nationally. And I know what the standards are like. I know what their expectations are. So when people come in there and said, yeah, the school said that if I go to their school, I'll come out and I'll be making, you know, $300,000 a year and they start here, you know, top management. 

And I'm like, you know what I'm saying like being able to walk back and have that conversation. I guess one of the things, this is a saying that we've adopted in our office and I don’t know nationally, if they’ve done it. But we talked about in our office. We call ourselves the dream crushers because we do get veterans that will come in and say well, I wanna do this because it sounds cool. And we have to turn around and say it may not be the best fit and this is why. And then having that conversation where a lot of veterans that I've talked to and my colleagues have talked with they have people that tell them yeah, you should definitely do that. That's a really great idea. 

But then they're not holding the hand up, you know, they don't know all the cards that they're holding in their hand. So that's why our programs is absolutely amazing. We have this specialized training, all of our counselors, nationally are required to have a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling. It's not required to be certified. But I know a good majority of counselors are nationally certified as rehabilitation counselors. They're trained in the labor markets, they're trained in disability because you got to think, how many people you talk to. They don't know what they're doing, or they don't know what they wanna do. And then you add on top of that disability that completely changes the approach. So now you gotta work with that individual and applying their strengths to utilize the highest level of employability that they can provide in the avenue that they're wanting to go and having that conversation.

Brock Briggs  1:14:16  

Yeah, you're talking with somebody like you said, they don't know their own internal failings about what they truly want to do for a job. They don't know the labor market because they're, you know, bombarded with every single, you know, news site has, like, oh, this is projected to grow, you know, 500% over the next five years. Like every single industry says that, you know. And then on the job side, you also don't know what employers want. Like when you get out of the service and you're like going back to school, especially as a young person, you don't know anything, like literally nothing. 

And so that's such the beauty of this program is like you literally have an expert in or near expert in all three of those things that's like ready to go to bat for you and help you constructively it doesn't seem like help. We'll probably talk about this later. There are a couple of times like we talked and you'd like gave me some hard homework. Like, it's like you made me do the work.

Max  1:15:23  

Yeah. Because in the end, you're gonna be the expert, you know what I'm saying? Like, you're providing me invaluable feedback on what you're gathering. And I tell veterans, like some people have asked well, what if they give you like bogus information? I'm like in the end, I can look at the data and say, yeah, no, that's not checking. Or if you really want to walk down there, it's really at the detriment, but I tend to be more of the closer. I work closer with my veterans and collaborating and I'm very transparent upfront on if I don't see something checking correctly, I'll bring it up. Or if they have concerns or anxiety of past failures or past patterns that they didn't like, like, for example, I got out of the military right at the recession in 2007. So 2008 hit, there was no jobs, right? 

So working through that and understanding that labor market now where I'm at now, you have to look at what markets are protected against the economy, right? Because people have that concern like, well, what if the economy shifts? Or when the economy shifts, is my job gonna be safe? And I said, well, these are the factors that you have to consider in doing that. Is it a necessary job within the economy? Or is this something that will people will only pay for when the money's good? So you start looking at that. And so one of the things that I will share and I say this a lot, and I've worked with individuals, again, from working at very entry level jobs to executive level positions. 

What the one, most notably, I had an individual that came in, and he had worked a lot of different jobs at mid level management, built a lot of knowledge with the proprietary software programs, processes within the businesses, had that knowledge, but didn't have the MBA to check the box, so a master's in business administration. So we turned around helped him get the masters in Business Administration. He didn't know how to present himself. We did resume development to make sure that we were noting down the transferable skills that he has, doing the interview prep and how to approach those larger organizations because they're different than the smaller ones. This individual was able not only to get hired, but was able to get hired at a higher level that he applied for. And he was, I think it was the largest monthly gross income I'd ever seen. 

Brock Briggs 



And because of what we had done to help him to get into that position, it was the same mentality. But then after he got in there, then I started utilizing his knowledge of that large organization to fact check my knowledge of what the expectation was, and it was dead on. And so what I had found, and this happens quite a bit now, and you'll find this, especially with the OEF veterans is that everybody thinks if you continually keep moving up the academic ladder, like for example, if you go get your associates, and then you get your Bachelor's in business, and then you get your MBA in business, and you do that right after each other, all of a sudden, you're going to be employable. That's going to provide the bridge. 

And I can tell you 9 times out of 10, it won't unless you know the person who owns the business, it's not gonna happen. And so we have a lot of people that come and say, hey, I need more education to be employable. But they have zero work experience in that industry. They have nothing to back and then they become more it's more difficult for them to become employable at that point. And it's not true for all industry but most industries. If you don't have the work experience or the transferable skills and you can present that in an interview. Higher education is not the bridge to get you there.

Brock Briggs  1:19:20  

I think that there are a lot of or I shouldn't say a lot. There are a few that I know of in like degrees wise where that there really is no need for a break. Social work kind of seems to be one of those like if you wanna be a social like a counselor person like you, everybody in that field. They do bachelors and they do masters right after because you can't even get a job. Doctors same thing. Like you have to literally but there is a desire to kind of see some of that work experience and I really appreciate that you called out that you know this can apply to more than just undergraduate. I want to talk a little bit about like the probably the most important part of this process, like finding out the benefits and all that stuff is, some things that are more easily accessed, the how to, and what is required of the service member is probably the most important, I think. So can you maybe walk me through what is the process of a person applying, what's expected of them? And then kind of unfold the interview process, I guess, if you will.

Max  1:20:36

Okay, no, that's perfect. That's a really good question. So when I tell veterans is make sure you pay attention to the invitation. Once you're found that you're eligible to apply and that they've given you an appointment, date and time. And the way you can do that is that you go on, I think eBenefits is gonna be changing over to va.gov, but you go on va.gov, manage my benefits, and then you go under the tab under employment. And then under employment, it'll have the link to where you can apply for the VR&E program. And so once you click on that and you put it's a VA Form 1900, once you fill that out online, it'll automatically be pushed to the local regional office in your catchment. And then they'll put that into the system. And then they'll generate an appointment day and time for you to meet with a counselor. 

And so once you get that invitation for the appointment, it is extremely imperative that as a veteran, or a service member, that you look at the entirety of the email because a lot of veterans that I worked with, I've had to change our approach and how I notify them. And that way they know what's expected of them is that you need to make sure to complete the 1902W, which is the long form application completely. So one of the things that I constantly see in there that I've had veterans redo is that they'll put in the work history see resume. I tell veterans, the resume does not provide me everything that I need. It doesn't tell me why you left a job, what your gross income was, what your transferable skills were, it doesn't tell me any of that. 

So make sure that you completely from front to back, fill out that 1902W because that is like one of the biggest documents that we have in that process to evaluate what's going on, making sure that you sign them the 28-0800, which is the expectations of the program. If you have any academic transcripts, unofficial, you don't need to get official at that point. But unofficial transcripts, if you have them. A resume, it doesn't have to be like the best resume in the world. We just need a basis of where you worked, how long you worked there, the job title, what you did. So that way we can help you develop what's called a master resume, right? 

So if you have the transcripts, the resume, you complete all those forms and sign those. One of the other things that you're gonna be asked to complete is an interest in aptitude assessment, which, depending on how the VA goes. Currently right now, its career scope. It's important that you take that assessment seriously because we also take that as a factor as well, and your interest, what you're interested in and your aptitudes, what you're good at. So making sure to have all that taken care of. The last part and I tell veterans that I've had like informal conversations with, is that when you are meeting with a counselor, understand it's employment based benefits. 

So when you have a conversation, don't talk to the counselor and say, hey, I wanna go to school and get this degree, because you're instantly gonna be off on the wrong pace. What you wanna do as a veteran is come in and say hey, I'm currently unemployed or I'm currently doing this, it's not suitable. This is the direction I'm wanting to go vocationally. What are your thoughts? And so that way you can springboard on a proposed vocational goal. I recommend at least having one vocational goal that you have in mind and possibly two. That way you can naturally create that progression because the first meeting generally is just entitlement to see if you've overcome. If one, you have an impairment to employment. But two, have you overcome that impairment? 

And if you don't feel that you have overcome that impairment, you need to be able to articulate why. So writing that stuff down is always helpful because it has to make sense. So once you get done with all the documentation, you meet with the counselors. They're gonna ask you, you know, what are you currently doing for work? Are you currently treating at the VA Medical Center for your service connected disabilities or your service connected disabilities worsening? And then from there, depending on how much time they have. Some counselors like me, if I find somebody entitled, I'll naturally walk into what are you proposing vocationally? So if it's for example, supply chain management and engineer, I will create a next steps from that point. So I like having things very clear and outlined on what I expect from you, between now and the follow up appointment that we have, right? 

So that next steps form, I do this and from what I've seen, our counselors don't have busy work. We don't believe in it. We want you to make that informed choice. So getting those next steps, tasks done, will be important. And then follow up to that, always make sure that you have a follow up meeting with your counselor. That way you don't fall through the cracks. Because a majority, if not all, counselors that I work with, we have extremely large caseload. So being able to make sure that you have tasks that you need to do, and then you have a follow up appointment, so you can always have movement in your case. And then from there, working through the evaluation and planning. 

And if everything works out, and we say hey, yeah, this labor market looks good. It's not gonna make your service connection’s worth. You have the months of entitlement and you have the academic, we consider academic horsepower to get through it, then we'll have you approach the school that we've identified and work through that in getting you into the school, getting you into plan and being able to get the authorizations out. And then from that point, after signing the plan, it's really just communicating any issues academically, personally. And from there, turning in grade reports or unofficial transcripts at the end of each term. That's really the process of what it looks like in our program. Was that helpful?

Brock Briggs  1:26:51  

Yeah, it was. I will say, like you breeze through that pretty quick. I would emphasize to anybody that's listening, that that process is like not, it's not a quick one, by any means. Like, I would encourage anybody that is considering Voc Rehab to not think that you're just gonna like throw in an application and like be accepted and be off to the races. Like, I remember going through this process with you. And I had like, I mean, I was working and kind of going to school at the time. But this was like, hours and hours of work, like application forms. 

I was going through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, like you were talking about, researching the labor market, finding job titles that met what my interest was, and, you know, you while you're kind of guiding me through the process, the weight of me pursuing this, it was on me. Like it wasn't just I come to you and you just hook it up. I had to prove to you, hey, I wanna go this way. Here's why I can't. And here's why I think the hardest part was like, why the job that I wanted is going to be an in demand job. And here's the data about the job market that supports that. Like that was not an easy process.

Max  1:28:19  

And it is and the way I approach it, that I don't wanna speak for other counselors. But when I work with veterans, such as you, and you've been very proactive and you're very articulate, very smart. So it was a nice, seamless process. But the way I approach it is, I always tell veterans, I'm gonna analyze this like it was your own money you were spending on this education. And this training because in the end from day one, when you're researching the, you know, the very follow up meeting that we have, after you've done your research, I'm gonna dig in and find out how much you know, like, who are the employers locally who hire, how much do they hire for, what are the requirements of the job? 

What's the education requirements? What's the population growth? You had brought up that a few, you know. Earlier on in the presentation where people look at the growth, but they don't look at the population size. It's all in the quantity. And so from day one to the point of identifying a goal suitable, you're already more knowledgeable than a majority of people that are already in the field because they were so linear in looking at that one specific job versus you know, what does that encompass overall. And if I'm going to be accepting a job, or you know, doing an interview, I have information already in the back of my head that I can push out in that interview that is gonna make you present way better than somebody that hadn't done that research previously.

Brock Briggs  1:29:49  

Well, and the kind of sad part of that is, is like those are all things that we should be doing anyway. Like, if you're gonna go pursue a job whether you're doing Voc Rehab or not. And you say, hey, I wanna go be XX position. You probably should have an idea about, hey, what does that job look like in five years? Is that going to be a more in demand job or not? Where am I gonna be living? Like, how many customers is there for this? Like, all of those things and it's a weighing machine with the whole purpose driven thing, the combination of those two is very difficult. But if you're just looking at the job portion, that's also it should be, you should be doing it anyway. It shouldn't be, it's good to have a counselor and somebody that is kind of helping you through the process because I don't think that that's intuitive to a lot of people. But if anybody listening is thinking about this space or whatever, it's absolutely something you should be looking at.

Max  1:30:54  

Absolutely. I mean, it changed my life I went from, I think I had a 2.4 GPA, went through the Post 9/11 GI Bill in my undergraduate and I graduated with a 4.0 in my graduate school. And I will tell you, and this is really more personal for me, but it really, whether you've got a small service connection and a not a lot of impairment, or somebody that's pretty severe. So when I was in the Marine Corps, I had a head injury, actually had nine of them. And out of the nine concussions that I got knocked out nine times. And so I had an MRI done and the neurologist looked at my scans, the neuro psychologists was looking at them here at the VA, and they're like, you're never gonna matriculate through your associates. You'll never matriculate through school. 

And they were pretty accurate at the beginning, where I didn't know how to learn. I was struggling with everything. And so I really had to lean on occupational therapy, speech therapy, disability resource centers that are at the universities and colleges to be able to be successful. And then with that, in that drive, and that intention of knowing where I need to land, I was able to be successful. And I honestly could say, as a veteran, I would not be where I am today if I was not in Voc Rehab because you had somebody that was really calling you on the things that you weren't meeting, and how to overcome those with supports that were available, right? 

So that's the biggest thing because I mean, again, like when you're making a decision to go to school, to get retrained, to do a new career, that is a huge decision financially for time investment. I mean, the average tenure of a case in our program is anywhere between two to six years. Like, on average, I think it's like three, three and a half. But we're with you from the very front end until the tail end and helping you through those issues and communicating and so that's why I really like our program. We're not, you know, a faceless organization.

Brock Briggs  1:33:12  

One of the things you said earlier, I think was really, really valuable about the servicemembers approach to how they come to Voc Rehab talking about the vocation base rather than education base. Is there anything else in your experience and years doing this like that, that veterans ought to hear? What are the things that people should be thinking about in processing to help them better be prepared for Voc Rehab, know where they should use it? That right there, that's high value, like thinking and notes for people that are like maybe going through this process. What else do you know that people ought to hear?

Max  1:33:59  

Okay. So when it comes to, after you've been found, entitled and accepted into the program, and now you're in the process of presenting to your counselor what you wanna do and why, you have to be able to articulate it. And if writing it down is helpful for you, that's actually better. Because the more prepared you are, the more organized in the previous work that you've done to, as a proposal to your counselor, and why this is going to be a good fit, will benefit you. It's gonna be invaluable, because what the counselor is looking for is how much of an informed choice are you making? One, two, and this the big one, of course, is within our policies and guidelines, I can put you in a job that makes your service connection worse. 

So when you're looking at something and you're saying I got this service connection, and I want to do this. Is this gonna make my service connection worse? And if they say it will, how are you gonna overcome that? So there's a combination that you can do of course. But how are you gonna overcome those impairments? So as you're looking at the labor market, talking with employers, like number one, because if you bring up just hey, I was talking to Boise State, or I was talking to College Western Idaho, or I was talking to the University of Phoenix, the counselor is gonna dig more at unbiased sources. 

So knowing where to look is so important for you in advocating for yourself, because in the end, the counselor is going to advocate for you, but do it in a way that's transparent, like, is this going to be a good fit? Did you really consider, you know, if you wanna do this type of field? Are you good at this? Do you enjoy doing that? Do you understand that the potential of income might be there, but it's unstable if the economy shifts, like that informed choice? And so it's just really thinking through having that end goal of what you're wanting to do vocationally. And then having the data to support it and don't use schools. Schools are the worst source of information because they're biased. It's a business model, you know.

Brock Briggs  1:36:05  

I'm gonna ask that question one more time, but in a different way, and maybe see if it prompts a different response. If you could talk to every person that would come onto your caseload in the next 10 years right now, and prepare them and say something to them, what would you tell them to get ready to come use you as a caseworker?

Max  1:36:36  

In coming on to my caseload in VR&E, what I would tell every veteran in the next 10 years is be ready to work. And what I mean by that, when you come into our program, this is a full time program. This isn't like, I'm gonna do this only on the weekends. And I'll catch up with you here and there. From the time that you meet, I'm gonna give you tasks to complete that are very intentional, and to take them seriously. But to be excited, don't think of it as homework. Think of it as a way that you're proactively choosing the direction you wanna go in life versus just taking jobs of opportunity. Jobs of opportunity is a trial and error. And now you will gain and you'll lose thing, you know, information through that process. 

But as you work through that and you start having a clearer picture of where you wanna land that's consistent with your interest, your aptitude and your abilities. And you see that end goal, that employer that is going to be full time work. And one of the things that I have my veterans that a lot of people don't consider is when you go to school, you have to understand that if you're working full time and if you're shifting into school, you have to be able to financially sustain off of that BAH or that housing stipend for the next four years. So be ready for that. Like those are really key things to consider in timing. 

But I think overall, if you're willing to put in the work, have a sense of humility, put in your dues and work hard. I promise you it will pay off. Because people do wanna hire veterans, but they wanna hire veterans that have that strong work ethic, that are wanting to be an asset to the company, that want to see where that company is gonna go in the next five years. And to be able to meet them where they're at, versus having to train from the day you finish your schooling. Does that make sense?

Brock Briggs  1:38:39  

Absolutely. They wanna hire people that can use the skills that they've learned from their service and how they make them better than the competition for that particular job. 



Brock Briggs

I said this before on a prior show, talking with somebody but your time in service is not a entitlement. We've used that word a lot this episode, but an entitlement to a job, but rather, another data point for why you might be a good pick for a job to an employer. It's just like any other job, but just a little bit different.

Max  1:39:26  

No, that's exactly right. You really have to sell yourself to the employer, but allow them to mold you and I always tell them reputation means everything. You know, one of the things that I really have caught on to in patterns with businesses, especially because good fit can affect somebody's outcome of whether they wanna do that long term, employment wise or not. So let's say for example, you're an engineer and you finish school and you get connected with a new company that has poor management or a poor reputation. There's a good chance that you highly, likely will not stay in that profession long term because that's what your impression of that profession is, right? 

So understanding the employers, understanding turnover, like the average tenure, one of the questions that I have when people do informative interviews with companies to figure out is what's the average tenure of the employees in that company? If their tenure is above 5 to 10 years, that tells you that they take care of their employees, whether they treat them well, or they pay them well. Either or that kind of gives you some insight into that company. So again, informed choice and everything that you do, being intentional, and how you approach what you wanna do and why because it's the counselors job to really dig into and ask why, to make sure you've really thought it through. And so yeah, no, I absolutely love this program. I hope that I was able to answer the questions that you had asked.

Brock Briggs  1:40:53  

I do have one final kind of personal question for you. You have been a part of the military connected something for some time now starting with your service, work at the VA and have been giving back to the community for a really, really long time. Spent a lot of time with vets and clearly have a heart for helping veterans and that's so admirable. I love that I could go on all day about that. What is it that you think that every veteran ought to hear?

Max  1:41:28  

I think the biggest barrier that veterans face now is a lack of accountability. So one of the things we brought up in the very beginning, and I've actually done significant research on this. So one of the biggest things a majority of veterans, not all but a majority of veterans don't have when they come out of the service is what we call executive level of functioning, meaning being able to make decisions on your own and making an informed choice. They just go out and it's very operated opportunistic, you know, what's the next thing that really thinking through the long term of what that's gonna look like because they were never trained how to do that. I always tell veterans don't be an accessory to society. 

Because veterans on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, you know, whatever day that is that, that's difficult or is related to veterans. It's nice to have that recognition. But you should wanna move beyond that recognition as a veteran, move beyond that recognition as that whatever you were in the military, I mean, you could always have that as a part of you. But to move beyond that and to be an active part and to be more than your disability. I think one of my biggest things that I correct with the veterans that I meet in the community and even on my caseload, and I correct it quickly is veterans will come to me and they say, I'm a disabled veteran or I'm 100% disabled veteran. 

And I turn around, I say, why are you able to talk? You know, like, and I kind of walk through like different things. I tell them, you're more than a disability. So if you move beyond being a victim, you move beyond being an accessory to the days of the year where we're acknowledged, that you can now start identifying a new purpose in your life. And that's why I love this program. And that's why I do what I do now. Because I wanna see veterans, not just be hey, look at that veteran or that disabled veteran t-shirt at the bar. I wanna see a veteran that has like a pin like an army pin, or a Coast Guard pin or an Air Force pin. I wanna see them in suits. I wanna see them managing businesses. I wanna see them owning companies. I wanna see them giving back but having that sense of purpose beyond the military because you can only sit half at the VA with a Styrofoam cup and horrible stale coffee for so long before you're more of a problem than you are the solution, so become the solution. 

And that's what I hope for all veterans like, move beyond that. Like you are so much more than a disabled veteran. You were a veteran that honorably served. And now you can go out and you can do things. You have something to offer the community, to offer your family. And so that's my hope and working with the veterans that I encounter. And you know, hopefully in the end, I tell them and says, my goal is to have you make more money than I do, you know. 

Brock Briggs  1:44:37  

So that's a mission I can get on board with. Max, this has been an unbelievably constructive conversation. I hope that people find value. I know that they will find value in this and this has been incredibly helpful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time.

Max  1:44:57  

I really appreciate meeting with you, Brock. You've been a privilege to be able to work with on my caseload and to be able to be with you today. And so to all the veterans, please apply. We appreciate all the service that you've done, you know, the veteran and non veteran counselors. The one thing that I'll leave off with is the VA I think overall tries to do a good job, but having understanding for the system and the constraints that we work within and having patience, but still advocating for yourself, but advocating intentionally. The VA will be able to help you unfortunately, you know, the Boise VA is one of the best in the nation. But overall, I think a majority of people in the VA wanna do good and help veterans. You know, we just definitely have growing pains and meetings have things we can improve upon. But in the end, we wanna serve you guys the best way we can.

Brock Briggs  1:46:03  

If all of the other Chapter 31 counselors are half as qualified, knowledgeable and care about veterans as much as you do, I think we're in really, really good shape from the VA perspective. So, Max, thank you so much. 

That's the episode. Thanks so much for listening. If you found something valuable in this episode and wanna do something to thank me, there are two ways that you can do that. The first is leaving an honest review on whatever platform you're listening on. I take those to heart and look for every bit of feedback as a way to improve the show. The second would be to send this to a friend. If you enjoyed it, there's a chance someone you know might also benefit from hearing it. Both of those things do wonders for me and those of you who have already done that, I appreciate it immensely. Until next week.