Witness Testimony of Thomas J. Pamperin, Deputy Under Secretary for Disability Assistance, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Braley, and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the VetSuccess program. My testimony will cover what we are currently doing in the TAP program, the current TAP reengineering efforts, and other support to separating Servicemembers and Veterans, to include the VetSuccess program and our efforts in the VetSuccess on Campus program. I am accompanied today by Ms. Ruth Fanning, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Service, VBA.
VA Transition Assistance Program
TAP is conducted under the auspices of a memorandum of understanding between the Departments of Labor, Defense, Homeland Security, and VA. The Departments work together to schedule briefings and classes on installations to best serve Servicemembers and their expectations as they prepare for their transition from active military service. Quarterly meetings among the Departments are held to oversee the operations of the program and to plan enhancements to TAP.
VA’s TAP briefings are provided by trained Military Services Coordinators (MSCs) from the regional offices with jurisdiction over military installations in the United States and Puerto Rico. TAP services are provided to Servicemembers stationed outside the United States through seven overseas MSCs providing services in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain, Okinawa, Japan and Korea. VA also provides transition briefings to demobilizing Reserve and National Guard Servicemembers. These briefings are typically held at the reserve component Servicemembers’ home station after completion of the deployment.
At TAP briefings, Servicemembers learn about the array of benefits and services available from VA. Servicemembers learn how to complete applications and are advised about what evidence is needed to support their claims. Following the general instruction segment, personal interviews are conducted with those Servicemembers who want assistance in preparing and submitting their applications for disability compensation and other benefits. In FY 2010, approximately 207,000 active duty, Reserve, and National Guard Servicemembers participated in over 5,000 transition briefings. From October 1, 2010, through March 2011, over 83,000 active duty, Reserve, and National Guard Servicemembers participated in over 2,000 transition briefings.
In June 2010, VA established the TAP Re-Engineering Project Team in response to a request from the VA/DoD Joint Executive Council to update the existing briefing to ensure that it met the needs of current Servicemembers. The project team revised the briefing and is currently developing a web-based version of VA’s portion of TAP to be available in the fourth quarter of 2011, for use in lieu of the existing “brick and mortar” classroom environment where appropriate. Our goal is to achieve 100-percent Servicemember participation in 2012 by enabling Servicemembers to complete the VA benefits briefing at their convenience prior to discharge.
Our efforts to improve the VA portion of TAP include three main elements: expanded training of briefers, continuous updates, and greater oversight of the program. The classroom TAP presentation has been revised and updated, reducing the number of slides by over 50 percent while focusing the remaining slides in a standardized template. Training has been completed on the new slide deck to over 200 VA employees, including those at overseas locations. A web page has been created to keep VA benefits briefers updated on benefits and resources. Monthly conference calls have been initiated to provide briefers with direct access to various subject matter experts, updated information on VA benefits, upcoming program changes/enhancements; and to communicate best practices. A survey tool is also under development for both the in-person briefing and on-line information to track attendance and customer feedback. This survey tool will provide VA with valuable information, including participation rates, customer satisfaction data, and qualitative feedback, which will help VA to better meet the needs of our separating Servicemembers.
As part of the continual development of the VA portion of TAP, VA is conducting monthly reviews of the information on the slide deck and on-line. In 2012, VA will begin scheduled site visits to review the delivery of the classroom briefings.
The goal of the VetSuccess program is to assist Veterans with service-connected disabilities to prepare for and obtain suitable and sustainable employment through the provision of services individually tailored to each Veteran’s needs.
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.
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 at the end of the program that assist job-ready Veterans to cross the finish line and land the career that they prepared for throughout their civilian and military experiences.
In FY 2010, 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 annual starting salary of $38,734.
The VetSuccess.gov website 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 the self-service features such as checking the status of a specific employment application.
The VA VetSuccess on Campus program was established in June 2009 to provide support to Veteran-students in completing college or university degrees, including Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VetSuccess on Campus program is currently in place at eight campuses: the University of South Florida, Cleveland State University, San Diego State University, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island Community College, Texas A&M Central Texas, Arizona State University and Salt Lake Community College. Over 4,500 Veteran-students have been served at these eight campuses.
VA plans to expand VetSuccess on Campus to 9 additional campuses with Veteran populations of 800 – 1,200 students in 2012. The VetSuccess on Campus program is designed to give needed support to all Veterans pursuing training through one of the educational programs administered by VA, as well as to Veterans who are not entitled to one of VA’s education benefit programs. Our objective is to significantly increase the potential for graduation and successful transition to a career that supports Veterans’ and their families and contributes to well-being of the Nation.
Mr. Chairman, we at VA are proud of our continuing role in the transition of Servicemembers from military to civilian life, and seek to continually improve the quality and breadth of our outreach efforts to active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members.
Thank you for allowing me to appear before you today. I would be pleased to respond to any questions from members of the Subcommittee.