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Opening Statement of Hon. Marlin A. Stutzman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Good morning.

We are here today to review the VA budget for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program as well as the Department’s progress in implementing a new national contract for counseling services.

Let me begin by mentioning my concern about the average 130-150 caseload carried by each Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment  counselor.  To put it succinctly, that is way too high and that is why I support the Committee’s Views and Estimates to the Budget Committee suggested a shift in funding to provide 50 more counseling staff.

Clearly, Members of this Committee support the concept of vocational rehabilitation as a means to return to the workforce or be rehabilitated as part of the Independent Living Program.  However, the Department has been somewhat cavalier in implementing the provisions in section 334 of Public Law 110-389 that require VA to conduct a longitudinal study of at least 20 years’ duration of three cohorts of VRE participants.  It is my understanding that after completing an initial contract to begin the study, VA has not funded the effort.  I find that unsatisfactory in light of the generous budgets given to VA since passage of that law.

As a reminder, Congress included the longitudinal study because little is known about the outcomes of those participating in VRE.  For example, the Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s FY 2010 Annual Benefits Report includes such relevant information on VRE participants as how many came from each military service.  But totally lacking is any information describing why of the nearly 70,000 applicants, 66,000 were found to be eligible for VRE, and 41,000 were found to be entitled to VRE benefits in FY 2010, there is no information on how many of those 41,000 continued in the program.

 Further, there is no information on why thousands chose not to participate.  Without such data, how is Congress to determine what changes to the law would decrease the dropout rate?  There is an old saying in business:  If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and unfortunately, the Department’s reluctance to fully implement PL 110-389 does not improve the current shortage of data.

I would also note that the VBA report presents VRE contradictory data.  On several pages, VA indicates the just over 117,000 veterans participate in VRE.  However, on page 70 of the report, VA counts 60,522 veterans participating in a vocational training program.  What are the other 57,000 doing?

Finally, there is the issue of the rate of rehabilitation.  VA states 10,038 veterans were rehabilitated in FY 2010.  I believe that, given the significant portion attending long term education and training as well as the nature of participants’ disabilities that is a reasonable number.  However, it is not 76 percent of those in the VRE program.  I am told this has been an issue for years and a GAO report stated that a proper accounting should produce a rate of about 18 percent.  I encourage VA to rethink their accounting so that we are not forced to provide them with a mandatory formula.

Again, I welcome all of our witnesses and look forward to the distinguished Ranking Member’s remarks so I will yield to him.