HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
MAY 6, 2010
STATEMENT OF RUTH FANNING
DIRECTOR, VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EMPLOYMENT SERVICE,
VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
May 6, 2010
Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program. In your invitation, you noted that a growing number of returning Veterans are entering the job market seeking employment, and that some face obstacles securing employment, particularly those who desire to work directly after service. Today, I will discuss the employment services VA provides to Veterans, update you on the status of new VetSuccess contracts, and discuss the VR&E staffing and initiatives supported by Congress’ appropriations. Many of the issues raised in your invitation letter deserve further elaboration and quantitative analysis; unfortunately, the process of retrieving, analyzing, and validating these data could not be accomplished with appropriate due care while still also providing you with a timely testimony. I will provide complete responses for the record following the hearing.
Overview of Veteran Employment Services
VR&E’s primary mission is to assist Veterans with disabilities that are service related to prepare for and obtain sustainable employment. Robust services are individually tailored to each Veteran’s needs. Services begin with a comprehensive evaluation to help Veterans with understanding their interests, aptitudes, and transferable skills. Next, vocational exploration focuses Veterans’ potential career goals with labor market demands, available training, and individual needs and preferences. This process helps each Veteran make informed choices and, with the help of his or her counselor, develop a roadmap – a rehabilitation plan – to achieve those goals. A broad range of employment services may be provided, from direct placement services and short-term training to college training or self-employment. The goal of every plan is to maximize the Veteran’s transferable skills, match interests and skill sets with labor market demands, ensure compatibility of the job with disability issues – using adaptive technology whenever possible – and help the Veteran enter the job market at a level on par with his or her peer group and in a career position in which he or she can thrive, even if disability conditions progress or worsen.
Disabled Veterans and Servicemembers receive VR&E services from two programs: Coming Home to Work (CHTW) and VetSuccess. The VR&E Coming Home to Work program provides career and adjustment counseling during and immediately following transition from active duty. This program focuses on early intervention to help wounded warriors begin planning and working toward their civilian career goals, reducing the risk of homelessness, underemployment, or unsuitable employment after discharge from the military. During transition, many Servicemembers and Veterans want immediate employment to ease their transition back into civilian life. VR&E partners with the Department of Defense (DoD) to help Servicemembers obtain internships through the Nonpaid Work Experience Program (NPWE), helping to build the Veterans’ resumes and often leading to competitive employment. In addition, VR&E partners with the Department of Labor (DOL), whose Veterans’ Employment and Training Service’s (VETS) REALifelines program assists with immediate employment. Because many times these first jobs are “transitional employment,” VR&E Service is also working closely with DOL to ensure that their programs link Veterans with VR&E or the Post 9/11 GI Bill services if needed to prepare for career employment. VR&E further collaborates with DOL/VETS by “hosting” a DOL/VETS funded state employee (Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialist) at our Regional offices and other points of entry. VA’s focus is to provide services that will allow Veterans to accept the first “transitional job” while also planning for their long-term career, ensuring long-term stability and upward mobility commensurate with each individual’s skill sets and interests.
Specific employment assistance includes:
Direct job placement services, from development of a resume and interviewing skills to connections to employers offering employment that is a match for the Veteran’s skill sets;
Training ranging from internships, on-the-job apprentice programs, certificate training to supplement existing skills, vocational training, and college training;
Self-employment assistance, to include evaluating and refining business plans, training in managing independent businesses, consultation services with small business experts, and support of some start-up costs for the most seriously disabled Veterans;
Outreach to government, private sector, non-profit, and faith-based organizations to market Veteran employment at the individual and corporate level, including education about special hiring authorities, special employer incentives, tax credit programs, and the positive benefits of hiring Veterans;
A specialized Web site, VetSuccess.gov, that includes job postings specifically targeted for Veteran applicants and access to a larger job board of over 500,000 job listings. The Web site also includes links to job resources, resume development tools, and search capabilities for Veterans and employers using the site.
Of equal importance, VR&E’s VetSuccess program helps very seriously injured Veterans to live as independently as possible at home and in their communities. For those Veterans whose disabilities are too severe to make employment feasible, VR&E provides a wide range of independent living services, including volunteer work placement, public transportation, life-skills coaching, counseling, and other services. To the extent possible, these services are integrated into employment plans. When necessary, VR&E provides independent living services with the ultimate goal of assisting each Veteran, to the extent possible, to enter into an employment plan that is a match for him or her – whether volunteer, part-time, supported employment, or competitive full-time employment.
Status of New VA VetSuccess Contracts
Over the past year, VR&E Service has worked in close collaboration with VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction (OALC) to develop and solicit a new performance-based contract. The solicitation was issued, and proposals were received and are currently being evaluated. Award of new contracts is anticipated in August or September 2010, with performance by new contractors commencing 90 days post-award. In preparation for award and contract administration, VR&E and OALC will provide formal training for the Contracting Officer Technical Representatives, Contract Specialists, and Ordering Officers, and conduct a formal kick-off and training session for successful vendors. VR&E Service is also working with the Office of Resource Management to develop automated invoice, referral, and tracking tools, anticipated for completion prior to contract award.
VR&E Staffing and Initiatives
VR&E’s current staff of over 1,100 employees around the country provides extensive outreach services through the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) and Coming Home to Work programs. These services include comprehensive employment and independent living services, and important support to participants in VA education programs. Program participants may receive career counseling and help to overcome barriers and support completion of their education programs. Through the VetSuccess on Campus pilot program, the full scope of benefits assistance and referrals is available for Post 9/11 GI Bill and other Veteran-students. The VetSuccess on Campus program began as a pilot at the University of South Florida and was recently expanded to San Diego State and Cleveland State Universities. VA plans near-term expansion to additional sites and has identified potential sites for consideration. Next steps include confirming available space on campus and negotiating MOUs with the schools.
In order to adapt to shifts in workloads due to deployments of Reserve and National Guard units, quickly meet the specialized needs of the most seriously disabled Veterans, provide community-based services to Veterans in remote areas, and fill the gap when staffing shortages occur so that timely services are not affected, VR&E is also supported with contract funding. During the FY 2010 budget formulation, an additional $8 million in General Operating Expenses (GOE) funding was allocated to support the VR&E program. In FY 2011, an additional $8.3 million in GOE funding has been requested to support services for Veterans in the VR&E program.
VR&E Service is also working very hard to develop new solutions that will further enhance employment and independent living services. Among these, we are equipping staff through the development of desk-top training; developing testing methods that support face-to-face counseling using secure and user-friendly technology; and conducting a top-to-bottom business process reengineering initiative to streamline and simplify service delivery – easing entry into, and use of, benefits for Veterans and focusing VR&E staff on core service delivery tasks.
Now, more than ever, the employment needs of Veterans are an urgent priority to VA. VA is showing leadership through our involvement in implementing the President’s government-wide hiring initiative, serving not only as one of the leaders with the Office of Personnel Management and DoD in developing this initiative, but also as a leader in the hiring of Veteran employees. VR&E is pivotal to the success of this initiative, actively working with government agencies and departments to increase employment of Veterans with disabilities. VR&E is leading through the development of a national job board on VA’s VetSuccess.gov Web site, with continual expansion of this site underway. VR&E is actively collaborating with businesses in all sectors to identify employment opportunities, particularly with those sectors with deficits of qualified applicants. VR&E is working to strategically understand future job trends to assist Veterans to match their career plans with future job-market demands. Finally, VR&E is working to use effective tools and innovations to meet the needs of transitioning Servicemembers – reaching out early, developing effective contracts, maximizing important partnerships with DOL and other government and non-government partners, and leveraging technology for training, case management, and Veteran employment tools.
Madam Chairwoman and members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.