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Witness Testimony of Ruth A. Fanning, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program.  I am pleased to appear before you to discuss the vitally important topic of Veterans’ employment.  We look forward to continuing our strong collaboration with this Committee and the entire Congress as we work together to enhance the delivery of services and benefits for Veterans with disabilities seeking to live independent and productive lives through successful careers.

Overview of the VR&E Program

The VR&E program is designed to assist disabled Servicemembers in their transition to civilian life and suitable employment and careers.  Our primary mission is to assist Veterans with service-connected disabilities through our VetSuccess program to prepare for and obtain suitable and sustainable employment through the provision of services individually tailored to each Veteran’s needs. 

VetSuccess Program:  VR&E VetSuccess services begin with a comprehensive evaluation to help Veterans identify and understand their interests, aptitudes, and transferable skills.  Next, vocational exploration focuses Veterans’ potential career goals in line with labor-market demands.  This allows Veterans to participate as partners with their counselors in the development of a rehabilitation plan that builds on their transferable skills and ultimately assists them in achieving their career goals.  To help Veterans accomplish their rehabilitation goals, VR&E provides a broad range of employment services including:

  • Translation of military experience to civilian skill sets;
  • Direct job-placement services;
  • Short-term training to augment existing skills to increase employability (e.g., certification preparation tests and sponsorship of certification); 
  • Long-term training including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, college training, or services that support self-employment;
  • Independent living services for those Veterans so severely disabled they may not currently be able to work, with the goal of exploring vocational options when each individual is ready; and
  • On-going case-management assistance throughout their rehabilitation programs to assist with any needs that would interfere with retention and completion to the point of employment.

Coming Home to Work (CHTW) Program:  To maximize early intervention to assist transitioning Servicemembers to achieve suitable careers, prevent underemployment, and mitigate risks of homelessness, VR&E provides extensive outreach and early intervention services through our CHTW program.  Under this program, full-time VR&E rehabilitation counselors are assigned to 13 military treatment facilities to assist disabled Servicemembers in planning for their next careers.  We also have CHTW coordinators in every regional office working with Department of Defense (DoD) Warrior Transition Units and programs, coming home events, Guard and Reserve Yellow Ribbon events, and Post Deployment Health Reassessments, with the goal of encouraging members and new Veterans to enter programs of services that will assist them in achieving their individual career goals. 

The FY 2012 budget request includes an increase of 132 direct FTE to support additional outreach and early intervention programs, including: 

  • 110 employees are requested to increase VR&E’s early intervention and outreach program in the joint VA/DoD Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).  VR&E rehabilitation counselors at the selected IDES sites will provide separating Servicemembers with a mandatory initial counseling session, followed by continued vocational services for eligible Servicemembers who elect to participate in the VR&E program.  Initial meetings will inform Servicemembers of the availability of benefits and services through VR&E and other VA education programs.  In many cases, this will allow training and preparatory services to begin while the Servicemember is still in the IDES process.
  • Nine additional FTE are requested to expand VA’s VetSuccess on Campus initiative.  This program, already in place at eight campuses, supports Veteran-students in completing college educational benefits, such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, to assist them to complete college and enter fulfilling careers.  VR&E rehabilitation counselors and Vet Center counselors provide strong on-campus support systems that include counseling services, assistance in accessing VA benefits, help in overcoming barriers that may include physical or mental health issues, assistance in connecting with other Veteran-students, and assistance with employment.

In addition, VR&E is in the process of modernizing the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP).  Program content will be specifically tailored to Servicemember and Veteran audiences, and DTAP will be deployed in multiple channels, including the traditional on-location base sessions, the web, and portable media.  This new multi-media-channel approach will make DTAP available to Veterans and family members on a “just-in-time” basis.  In addition, enhanced content will make information comprehensive and more easily understood.

Transforming VR&E to a 21st Century Program

VR&E Service recently launched a transformation project geared to make our program the premier 21st Century vocational rehabilitation and employment program.  VR&E’s transformation effort focuses on modernizing and streamlining services using a Veteran-centric approach.

VR&E’s transformative changes include allowing Veterans more choice in their appointment scheduling through automated scheduling, and expediting Veterans’ entry into a rehabilitation program by streamlining and expediting the evaluation and planning process through reduction of required processes and paperwork performed by VR&E counselors.  The VR&E program plans to release a knowledge management portal to simplify counselors’ access to regulations, guidance, and other policy information needed to perform their jobs.  VR&E is also developing methods and business rules to move to a paperless processing model that incorporates self-service.  All of these initiatives focus on simplifying processes and streamlining the program so that Veterans may more quickly and easily access services resulting in employment.

Working in collaboration with VA’s Innovation Initiative (VAi2), VR&E Service is engaged in innovative initiatives to build self-employment incubators and tools, leading to more Veteran-owned businesses and self-management that will allow the most seriously disabled Veterans to work in the career of their choosing and live as independently as possible.  We are also conducting a VA employee innovation competition to allow the staff working every day with our Veterans to identify additional program enhancements.  Important partners in the self-employment innovation have included the Small Business Administration and VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

Employment Initiatives

As illustrated in my testimony thus far, Veteran employment is the fundamental mission of the VR&E VetSuccess program.  Success relies on early intervention, smart processes, productive partnerships, good rehabilitation planning, and retention to the point that each Veteran is job-ready.  Although all of these areas are vitally important, the most important are those services that assist job-ready Veterans to cross the finish line and land the career that they have prepared for throughout their civilian and military experiences.

In FY2010, out of the 10,038 Veterans that were successfully rehabilitated from the program, 51 percent were hired in the private sector, 33 percent were hired with the Federal government, 12 percent were hired with state and local government, and 4 percent were hired with faith-based and community organizations.  Of note, 79 percent of Veterans were employed in professional, technical, or managerial careers, earning an average starting salary of $38,734 annually.

I would like to highlight some specific VetSuccess initiatives focused on assisting Veterans to obtain and maintain suitable employment consistent with their potential and interests.

  • Employer Education:  VR&E staff work with all employment sectors to help them understand the smart business decision that hiring a Veteran represents.  Veterans bring with them a high degree of discipline, an understanding of both leadership and teamwork, a drive to achieve the mission, and a work ethic and maturity that are difficult to rival.
  • Executive Order 13518:  VR&E is working aggressively with government agencies and departments to implement the Executive Order to hire Veterans.  VR&E is assisting these government employers in understanding special Veteran and VR&E program hiring authorities and promoting their utilization of the VR&E Non-paid Work Experience (NPWE) Program – an internship program that allows a government entity to “try out” a Veteran for a job at no cost.  We are also encouraging them to take advantage of recruitment opportunities through VetSuccess.gov, a web site designed by VR&E for Veterans seeking employment and employers seeking Veteran-employees.
  • Private-Sector Employers:  VR&E works with the private sector to understand tax credits, special employer incentives, and on-the-job training programs available when hiring Veterans, as well as the VetSuccess.gov program.
  • Career Fairs:  VR&E participates in live and virtual career fairs.  These fairs allow Veterans to meet large numbers of employers in one location, whether in their community or via the internet; view and apply for jobs; chat live with recruiters; and participate in job interviews on the spot or via internet chat.  VR&E is actively marketing these job fairs through multiple venues.  VR&E partners are also linking to the VetSuccess web site.  Recently, on a Jumbo Tron in Times Square, New York, a partner advertised VetSuccess in conjunction with an upcoming career fair.
  • Troops to Counselors:  VR&E developed the Troops to Counselors Initiative to increase the number of Veterans hired as Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors within VBA.  This initiative introduces Veterans with bachelors degrees in human services, and those interested in the human services field, to the field of rehabilitation counseling, one of the top 10 growth industries.  It will also fast track employment since students may be hired as administrative staff using the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) at any point during their bachelors and graduate programs, and hired as counselor interns once they enter the internship portion of their graduate programs.  Participation in SCEP allows VBA to hire graduates noncompetitively.  VR&E has set a goal that 60 percent of new vocational rehabilitation counselor hires in 2014 and beyond will be Veterans. 
  • VetSuccess.gov:  The VetSuccess.gov Web site has been enhanced to provide a one-stop resource for both disabled and able-bodied Veterans and family members to access services during transition, campus life, job search, and career attainment.  The program also assists Veterans with disabilities to maximize independence in their homes and communities.  The Web site includes a job board for employers desiring to hire Veterans; resume builders and upload tools that allow Veterans to utilize resumes already developed; a military-to-civilian jobs translator; aggregator tools for employers seeking certain skill sets and for Veterans seeking specific jobs; and a feedback mechanism to self-report employment gained through the site.  The job-board feature of VetSuccess.gov currently connects over 68,000 Veterans with over 1,500 employers.  Veterans also have access through the Direct Employers Job Central career board to over 4 million jobs, with additional links to other popular and highly populated job boards.  Other enhancements to the site include self-assessment tools and interactive maps that drill down to resources in the Veteran’s community.  Future enhancements will include self-assessment tools, an enhanced military-to-civilian-jobs translator, and linkage to E-Benefits effective next month, allowing self-service features such as checking the status of a specific employment application.
  • Stakeholder Relationships:  Relationships with stakeholders including DoD, the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), private and public sector employers, and non-profit organizations are vital to the success of the VR&E program.  Key stakeholders such as RSA and DOL play significant roles in working with VR&E toward the ultimate goal of suitable employment of Veterans.
  • Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA):    VR&E has several MOAs in place with local State Vocational Rehabilitation programs and is in the process of finalizing a national MOA with RSA.  Our Employment Coordinators join the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation “NET”, or national employment team, opening up a larger number of employer contacts and employment opportunities for Veterans.  In addition, shared training has helped to build skill sets, share best practices, and build networks important to success in job placement.
  • Department of Labor (DOL):  DOL is a key partner in the placement of Veterans with disabilities.  DOL’s grant-funded Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER) primary roles are to assist job-ready Veterans with disabilities to obtain and sustain employment.  In addition, these staff members assist able-bodied Veterans in their job searches.  VA and DOL have an ongoing joint work group, along with State Workforce Agencies, which developed and rolled out a best-practice model and standard operating procedures, and provided training to staff from all organizations.  In addition DOL worked with VR&E and the State Workforce Agencies to co-locate a DVOP specialist or LVER at each of the 57 VR&E regional office locations.  The joint work group monitors and measures progress and successes and provides assistance to offices as needed.

Conclusion

VA continues to seek new and innovative ways to assist Veterans in achieving their goals for full, productive, and meaningful lives and careers.  Our focus is on helping Veterans build upon the excellent skills gained through their military service, providing streamlined services resulting in career employment.  VA will continue to work with all sectors of Government and private and public employment communities to assist Veterans in reaching their highest potential in this challenging economy.

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the Committee, this concludes my statement.  Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.  I will be happy to respond to any questions.