Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and other distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit for the record VetsFirst’s views on three of the bills under consideration today.
VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association, represents the culmination of over 65 years of service to veterans and their families. We advocate for the programs, services, and disability rights that help all generations of veterans with disabilities remain independent. This includes access to VA financial and health care benefits, housing, transportation, and employment services and opportunities. Today, we are not only a VA-recognized national veterans service organization, but also a leader in advocacy for all people with disabilities.
Improving Veterans’ Access to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Act of 2014 (H.R. 4037)
VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services are critical to helping eligible servicemembers and veterans with service-connected disabilities receive the skills and training necessary to help them reintegrate into the workforce and their communities. Without access to quality vocational rehabilitation services, many veterans with disabilities may be unable to successfully transition to the workforce and a long-term career. This legislation would make changes to aspects of VR&E’s program in an effort to improve access to services for veterans with significant barriers to employment.
Section 4 of this legislation would allow veterans who are receiving rehabilitation assistance through VR&E and who are referred for assistance under Chapter 21 to receive assistance for needed housing modifications. Specifically, this provision would add to the types of disabilities that qualify for assistance under Chapter 21 those that are disabilities for which the veteran is eligible for VR&E and is referred by VR&E for housing modification assistance. Access to housing modifications is critical for the successful rehabilitation of many veterans with significant disabilities. Thus, VetsFirst supports efforts to increase accessibility to housing modifications.
Section 5 of this legislation would allow VA to prioritize the provision of VR&E services based on level of need. According to the legislation, a determination about need for services should include disability ratings, the severity of employment handicaps, qualification for a program of independent living, income, and any other appropriate factors. VetsFirst supports access to services for veterans with disabilities who have the most significant need for vocational rehabilitation services. However, VetsFirst is concerned that establishment of such priorities could lead to problems in accessing services for veterans who could greatly benefit from VR&E services but who are not deemed a priority for VA.
Any prioritization must include provisions for ensuring that all eligible veterans receive needed services. Delays to receiving services that result from wait lists would be unacceptable and may impact long-term employment outcomes. Congressional review of any prioritization and its
implementation would be helpful in ensuring continued access for all eligible veterans. An alternative to prioritization would be better workforce allocation within VR&E to ensure that VA is better able to meet the needs of all eligible veterans.
Section 6 of this legislation would amend the definition of “serious employment handicap.” Currently, a serious employment handicap is defined as “a significant impairment, resulting in substantial part from a service-connected disability rated at 10 percent or more, of a veteran’s ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with such veteran’s abilities, aptitudes, and interests.” This legislation would modify that definition by requiring that a significant impairment result from a service-connected disability that is directly related to a veteran’s ability to return to work.
If implemented, some veterans who are currently eligible for VR&E services under the current definition would likely no longer be able to receive these services. VetsFirst believes that veterans who need assistance with vocational rehabilitation should be able to access services if needed to help them be successful in returning to the workforce. Although these veterans may be eligible for programs that are available to all Americans seeking employment, access to those programs may be limited. VetsFirst believes that this legislation should be amended to provide access to training, educational, or other benefits that can provide impacted veterans with a pathway to employment.
Veterans Employment and Training Service Longitudinal Study Act of 2014 (H.R. 4150)
This legislation would require the Department of Labor to contract with a non-government entity to conduct a longitudinal study of veterans who received job counseling, training, and placement under Chapter 41 and those who did not seek the same assistance. The survey will include information about the disability ratings of individuals, their employment status, whether services provided by disabled veterans’ outreach program specialist or local veterans’ employment representatives were helpful, and whether the individual received VA educational assistance or participated in VA’s VR&E program.
VetsFirst supports this legislation. This survey will provide important data that will help the Department and other stakeholders to determine the long-term impact of employment services for veterans. Because it will include measures on disability, this survey may also provide important information about the impact it has on long-term employment.
Veterans Education Survey Act of 2014 (H.R. 4151)
This legislation would require VA to contract with a non-government entity to conduct a survey of individuals who have used or are using VA educational benefits under Chapters 30, 32, 33, and 35. The survey will collect important information about beneficiaries, including the services received
from their educational institutions, opinions about the effectiveness of the VA programs through which they received benefits, and eligibility for and use of VA’s VR&E program. Upon completion of the survey, VA will be required to provide Congress with the results of the survey and resulting recommendations.
VetsFirst supports this legislation. The survey’s requirement to collect data including whether or not the individual has a service-connected disability may be helpful in determining the influence that disability had, if any, on an individual’s choice of school; goal for education or training; and the services that the individual received from the school. We also appreciate the inclusion of a question regarding VA’s VR&E program which we believe will help with efforts to determine why veterans who are eligible for VR&E might instead pursue other educational benefits.
We urge swift passage of this legislation.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony concerning VetsFirst’s views on these important pieces of legislation. We remain committed to working in partnership to ensure that all veterans are able to reintegrate in to their communities and remain valued, contributing members of society.
Information Required by Clause 2(g) of Rule XI of the House of Representatives
Written testimony submitted by Heather L. Ansley, Vice President of VetsFirst; VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association; 1660 L Street, NW, Suite 504; Washington, D.C. 20036. (202) 556-2076, ext. 7702.
This testimony is being submitted on behalf of VetsFirst, a program of United Spinal Association.
In fiscal year 2012, United Spinal Association served as a subcontractor to Easter Seals for an amount not to exceed $5000 through funding Easter Seals received from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This is the only federal contract or grant, other than the routine use of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for Veterans Service Officers that United Spinal Association has received in the current or previous two fiscal years.
Heather L. Ansley, Esq., MSW
Heather L. Ansley is the Vice President of VetsFirst, which is a program of United Spinal Association.
Ms. Ansley began her tenure with the organization in December 2009. Her responsibilities include managing the public policy advocacy, veterans benefits services, and veterans outreach activities for VetsFirst. She also works to promote collaboration between disability organizations and veterans service organizations by serving as a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Veterans and Military Families Task Force.
Prior to her arrival at VetsFirst, she served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Lutheran Services in America Disability Network.
Before arriving in Washington, D.C., she served as a Research Attorney for The Honorable Steve Leben with the Kansas Court of Appeals. Prior to attending law school, she worked in the office of former U.S. Representative Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) where she assisted constituents with problems involving federal agencies. She also served as the congressional and intergovernmental affairs specialist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region VII office in Kansas City, Missouri.
Ms. Ansley is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Ms. Ansley also holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Juris Doctorate from the Washburn University School of Law in Kansas.
She is licensed to practice law in the State of Kansas and before the United States District Court of Kansas.
 38 U.S.C. § 3101(7).