On Thursday, your VFW joined veterans’ advocates for a hearing by the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity to discuss the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, or VR&E, program. Subcommittee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, and his colleagues addressed the various limitations and hindrances facing disabled veterans who apply for VR&E. Several of the testifying witnesses brought forth their observations and concerns regarding the program.
To view an archived webcast of the hearing and to read each witness’ prepared remarks, click here.
The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, offered a few brief points on their recent investigation into the effectiveness of VR&E. VA recorded a total of 17,000 disabled veterans who have applied for the program seeking employment after their military service. Half of the participants found suitable jobs, one-third left the program and the remaining participants are still going through the process. While these numbers demonstrate adequate success, GAO believes the data may be misleading and recommends that VA revise its approach to measuring rehabilitation and success at the employee, regional, and national levels in order to properly calculate the rate of success.
To read GAO’s full report on VR&E, click here.
Paul Varela of the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, testified on some of the problems within the program. As noted by the GAO report, it takes disabled veterans six years on average to complete their rehabilitation program. Varela proposed a monthly stipend for program participants and an incentive that will encourage the veteran employment seekers to successfully complete the program. He also said the caseloads for counselors are higher than normal, which is a result of the lack of staff, workload management, and resource delegation.
In addition to initial success reporting on those who have found jobs, Varela advocated for success reporting on participant progress in the program, and for veterans who have been employed for more than 60 days. Mental health conditions are a concern for veterans’ advocacy groups and it is imperative that veterans can overcome these conditions to remain suitably employed. Furthermore, the 12-year eligibility limit, after receiving disability notification, presents a challenge for veterans who may take 12 years or more to overcome their conditions and then apply to the program. Varela asked for the VA to eliminate this limit, a recommendation that the VFW has echoed each year in its national resolutions.
Varela also supported a modernization of technology for better program management and oversight and for the cap, or maximum enrollment, on the Independent Living Participants to be removed.
DAV is a partner alongside the VFW on the Independent Budget, where Varela serves as a subject matter expert on VR&E. To read the Independent Budget’s full recommendations on VR&E, click here.
In response to the GAO report and witness testimony, Jack Kammerer, director of the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, gave an update on the implementation of GAO’s recommendations. He said that VR&E is currently redesigning local, regional, and national performance measures to better evaluate program success. Furthermore, he maintains confidence in VR&E’s ability to professionally judge a veteran’s satisfaction in his or her current VR&E employment. He praised VR&E’s efforts to connect with disabled veterans via professional counseling and services.
Your VFW is dedicated to ensuring the future success of veterans in their goals after military service. While VFW supports the mission of the VR&E program, we also advocate for specific adjustments to continually improve the program. For more information about the VA’s VR&E program, click here.