Opening Statement of Hon. Bruce L. Braley, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
In past hearings, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program has been referred to as one of the VA’s crown jewels, for the critical services and rehabilitation programs it provides. This program has the potential of becoming one of the best benefits programs under the VA.
Over the years, the VR&E program has grown and has become more comprehensive through legislation to better fulfill its mission, such as what Public Law 111-377 did as it aligned some of the education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. And most recently, it has been going through a transformation as it’s being branded as the VR&E VetSuccess Program.
Today we will hear about VR&E’s successes and failures, from the VetSuccess on Campus to the National Acquisition Strategy. Since the VR&E program provides assistance to service-disabled veterans seeking to obtain employment and independent living, it is crucial that we analyze their Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2012 and evaluate their resources, operations, and performance measures.
The VR&E program is unique in that it requires personal interaction with the veteran to deliver services. The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) plays a vital role in this key interaction with veterans. In the initial meeting between the VR&E counselor and the veteran, a determination is made as to whether the veteran suffers from an employment handicap. Eventually, the counselor develops a personalized plan to address the veteran's rehabilitation and employment needs. This is why it’s extremely important that we assess the current ratio of counselors to veterans to see if it is appropriate.
I would also like to discuss how often veterans complete their rehabilitation plan and how long it takes, and well as hear about what may have deterred some veterans from completing their rehabilitation plan. I have concerns over the current VR&E data gathering methods. In FY 2009 there were 110,750 participants with 11,022 rehabilitated, and in FY 2010 there were 117,130 participants with 10,038 rehabilitated. What alarms me is that even while the number of participants has increased, the number of rehabilitated veterans has decreased.
I also question whether the number of participants in the program is misleading due to VA’s definition of a participant. Currently, any veteran that has applied to the program but has never actually realized a rehabilitative plan is considered a participant. For example, if after submitting an application the veteran decides this program is not suitable for them, the application is still included in the participation rate. In FY 2010 the number of actual participants in some type of training program under VR&E was 60,522. The data gathering method is inaccurate, and that bothers me because these statistics are an essential tool to truly measuring the effectiveness of this program. I hope that Director Ruth Fanning will address this concern for us today.
The other initiative that I look forward to learning more about is VR&E’s National Acquisition Contract and how successfully VA will work with contractors to avoid the same mistakes from nearly two years ago. Providing the vocational rehabilitative services a veteran needs can be challenging and avoiding problems with contractors who are unable to meet contract services can prevent veterans from achieving their rehabilitation plan.
We have noticed that the work at VR&E has been increasing. I hope the VA can reassure us today that their FY 2012 budget request will support the 15.5 percent increase in the VR&E workload.