Is the VA's Vocational Rehab and Employment Program Effective?

By Bill Leonard Jan 28, 2014
Since many private-sector employers have intensified efforts to hire and recruit more U.S. veterans, the job-training and employment programs of government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have come under more scrutiny.

In 2013 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the VA’s vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) program; the results were released Jan. 14, 2014. The GAO researchers found that, although the VA has made some improvements to the performance and workload management of its VR&E program, many weaknesses remain.

The GAO examined the job-training and employment experience of disabled veterans who entered VR&E program from 2003 to 2012. Its researchers discovered that nearly two-thirds of participants typically found suitable employment in three to six years.

Many employers, particularly government contractors, should find the study’s results interesting, since the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs released a set of regulations in August 2013 whose goal is to increase the job-participation rates of veterans with disabilities.

Even though VR&E program results have improved, the GAO report concluded that disabled veterans still face several hurdles to finding suitable work. Many of the employment challenges relate to physical- or mental-health issues, as well as negative attitudes or stereotypes on the part of some employers.

In addition, interviews with VR&E staff and program participants revealed that because of frequent personnel changes within the VA, many veterans had to work with multiple VR&E counselors, which slowed the process and led to clients’ frustrations with the program.

Participants also pointed to private-sector employers’ limited understanding and knowledge of military work experience as another major stumbling block for veterans seeking suitable employment.

The GAO report recommends that the VA:

  • Re-examine its staff-allocation formula and review staff assignments.
  • Improve its staff training.
  • Look for ways to improve staff continuity, so that program participants have consistent vocational advice and work-placement opportunities.

In addition, VA officials should pursue partnerships and other connections with private-sector organizations that can help smooth and accelerate the hiring process for program participants.

Officials at the department agreed with most of the GAO’s recommendations and are in the process of implementing improvements to the VR&E program.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.​


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