Disabled Veterans' Employment:

Additional Planning, Monitoring, and Data Collection Efforts Would Improve Assistance

GAO-07-1020: Published: Sep 12, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2007.

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To better assist veterans with service-connected disabilities seeking employment, in 2005, the Departments of Labor (Labor) and Veterans Affairs (VA) signed an agreement to coordinate employment services for disabled veterans. Around the same time, VA rolled out a redesigned employment program for these veterans, known as the Five-Track program, which also established an employment coordinator position and job resource labs. To help Congress understand the status of these initiatives, GAO was asked to provide information on (1) the progress in implementing the 2005 agreement and challenges to implementation, (2) the status of implementation of VA's Five-Track program and challenges posed by recently returning veterans, and (3) the role of employment coordinators and job resource labs in serving veterans. To obtain this information, GAO interviewed Labor and VA officials and national veterans' service organizations, and conducted site visits in five states.

Labor and VA have implemented some elements of their agreement to coordinate efforts, but face challenges executing the agreement on the state level and lack a complete plan for implementing and assessing the progress of the agreement. Labor and VA have implemented one element of the agreement--establishing three joint work groups--but have only partially implemented or taken no action on the others. In addition, all five states we visited had implemented at least some elements of the agreement that need to be carried out on the state level, but faced challenges implementing others. Labor and VA have not developed an implementation plan that includes long-range time frames and benchmarks to measure progress. Further, Labor and VA have not fully assessed state actions to implement the agreement and may not have provided states with sufficient guidance. While VA has mostly implemented its Five-Track employment program for disabled veterans, the employment needs of newly returning veterans may pose challenges. VA officials have completed a pilot study, trained staff, distributed orientation materials, and deployed employment coordinators, but other components remain in process. Some officials expressed concerns that employment programs for disabled veterans--including the Five-Track program--may not be prepared to meet the needs of participants returning from recent conflicts, who VA predicts will be more likely than previous returning veterans to have certain disabilities, such as those associated with traumatic brain injuries. VA has begun efforts to address these needs. VA employment coordinators and job resource labs in the five states we visited provided employment assistance to a limited number of veterans and some of their functions were available elsewhere. Employment coordinators provided direct employment services for veterans and also performed job development and outreach activities. However, employment coordinators we met with provided limited services to veterans outside their local areas, and similar services were available elsewhere. Job resource labs provided some additional resources for veterans, but according to some staff, not many veterans are using the labs. Job resource labs also appeared to duplicate other available services.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2011, Labor and VA completed and approved a plan to track the implementation of state-level memoranda of agreement (MOA). The Labor/VA Joint Work Group is charged with overseeing the plan, and plans to annually assess whether local Labor and VA partners are implementing the key elements of the national Labor/VA agreement: 1) yearly reporting, 2) staff evaluations including partnership activities, 3) state-level MOAs, 4) information sharing, 5) unemployment insurance wage data, 6) team approach beginning early in the rehabilitation process, 7) advising Chapter 31 participants of state workforce agency (SWA) benefits, 8) referral process, 9) identification of points of contact, and 10) SWA staff co-located at least part-time within VA offices. As part of this effort, the Joint Work Group plans to annually review self assessments and local MOAs from one-third of the partnership sites to assess the status of the partnership and ensure that the Technical Assistance Guide is being implemented properly. The Joint Work Group plans to provide feedback and technical assistance to sites that report difficulties implementing the MOAs. In addition, the Joint Work Group expects that the annual information provided by these partnership sites will enable them to identify general areas in need of improvement and best practices. Finally, the Joint Work Group plans to compile annual reports summarizing the information provided by the partnership sites to be shared with senior leadership within both Labor and VA.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct Veterans' Employment Training Service (VETS) and Vocation Rehabilitation and Employment Service (VRE) to develop a written plan for the full implementation of the agreement that includes long-term time frames, benchmarks by which to track implementation at the state level, and plans for taking action in instances when states are not fully implementing the agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2011, VA and Labor completed and approved a plan to track the implementation of state-level memoranda of agreement (MOA). The VA/Labor Joint Work Group is charged with overseeing the plan, and plans to annually assess whether local VA and Labor partners are implementing the key elements of the national VA/Labor agreement: 1) yearly reporting, 2) staff evaluations including partnership activities, 3) state-level MOAs, 4) information sharing, 5) unemployment insurance wage data, 6) team approach beginning early in the rehabilitation process, 7) advising Chapter 31 participants of state workforce agency (SWA) benefits, 8) referral process, 9) identification of points of contact, and 10) SWA staff co-located at least part-time within VA offices. As part of this effort, the Joint Work Group plans to annually review self assessments and local MOAs from one-third of the partnership sites to assess the status of the partnership and ensure that the Technical Assistance Guide is being implemented properly. The Joint Work Group plans to provide feedback and technical assistance to sites that report difficulties implementing the MOAs. In addition, the Joint Work Group expects that the annual information provided by these partnership sites will enable them to identify general areas in need of improvement and best practices. Finally, the Joint Work Group plans to compile annual reports summarizing the information provided by the partnership sites to be shared with senior leadership within both VA and Labor.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct Veterans' Employment Training Service (VETS) and Vocation Rehabilitation and Employment Service (VRE) to develop a written plan for the full implementation of the agreement that includes long-term time frames, benchmarks by which to track implementation at the state level, and plans for taking action in instances when states are not fully implementing the agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2008, as a joint effort, the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) Service and the Department of Labor (DOL) Veterans Employment Training Service (VETS) completed and implemented joint procedures in its Technical Assistance Guide. The Guide outlines operations and procedures to assist agencies in increasing employment opportunities for veterans. Additionally, in December 2008, the DOL and VR&E Joint Work Group nationally conducted joint training with VR&E, state workforce agencies, and DOL staff. In July 2009, VR&E held a Leadership and Workload Management Training Workshop, which included a training session for VR&E officers led by VR&E Service and VETS staff. Specifically, the session included training on requirements of the interagency agreement and a forum for discussing opportunities for improvement.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to provide additional direction to the states on implementing the agreement, including examples of promising practices from states, such as strategies for sharing information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2008, as a joint effort, the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) Service and the Department of Labor (DOL) Veterans Employment Training Service (VETS) completed and implemented joint procedures in its Technical Assistance Guide. The Guide outlines operations and procedures to assist agencies in increasing employment opportunities for veterans. Additionally, in December 2008, the DOL and VR&E Joint Work Group nationally conducted joint training with VR&E, state workforce agencies, and DOL staff. In July 2009, VR&E held a Leadership and Workload Management Training Workshop, which included a training session for VR&E officers led by VR&E Service and VETS staff. Specifically, the session included training on requirements of the interagency agreement and a forum for discussing opportunities for improvement.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to provide additional direction to the states on implementing the agreement, including examples of promising practices from states, such as strategies for sharing information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The VA/Labor Joint Work Group (JWG) currently provides technical assistance and plans to continue to do so for locations needing assistance as identified during the proposed quarterly assessments. For example, one location raised a concern regarding the issuance of a VA email account for Labor's Disabled Veterans Outreach Program staff, which was addressed and resolved successfully by the JWG. State and local offices can contact any member of the JWG at any time by phone or email for assistance. Contact information for the JWG members is available in the Technical Assistance Guide that the agencies have provided to state and local staff, and has also been provided during training for state and local staff.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to provide technical assistance to states that are facing difficulties implementing the agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The VA/Labor Joint Work Group (JWG) currently provides technical assistance and plans to continue to do so for locations needing assistance as identified during the proposed quarterly assessments. For example, one location raised a concern regarding the issuance of a VA email account for Labor's Disabled Veterans Outreach Program staff, which was addressed and resolved successfully by the JWG. State and local offices can contact any member of the JWG at any time by phone or email for assistance. Contact information for the JWG members is available in the Technical Assistance Guide that the agencies have provided to state and local staff, and has also been provided during training for state and local staff.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to provide technical assistance to states that are facing difficulties implementing the agreement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2011, Labor and VA completed and approved a plan to track the implementation of state-level memoranda of agreement (MOA). The Labor/VA Joint Work Group is charged with overseeing the plan, and plans to annually assess whether local Labor and VA partners are implementing the key elements of the national Labor/VA agreement: 1) yearly reporting, 2) staff evaluations including partnership activities, 3) state-level MOAs, 4) information sharing, 5) unemployment insurance wage data, 6) team approach beginning early in the rehabilitation process, 7) advising Chapter 31 participants of state workforce agency (SWA) benefits, 8) referral process, 9) identification of points of contact, and 10) SWA staff co-located at least part-time within VA offices. As part of this effort, the Joint Work Group plans to annually review self assessments and local MOAs from one-third of the partnership sites to assess the status of the partnership and ensure that the Technical Assistance Guide is being implemented properly. The Joint Work Group plans to provide feedback and technical assistance to sites that report difficulties implementing the MOAs. In addition, the Joint Work Group expects that the annual information provided by these partnership sites will enable them to identify general areas in need of improvement and best practices. Finally, the Joint Work Group plans to compile annual reports summarizing the information provided by the partnership sites to be shared with senior leadership within both Labor and VA.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to collect and assess complete information on the progress of the states in implementing the agreement using well-designed and appropriate methodology, such as a systematic review of state-level memorandums of agreements or a comprehensive survey of all locations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2011, VA and Labor completed and approved a plan to track the implementation of state-level memoranda of agreement (MOA). The VA/Labor Joint Work Group is charged with overseeing the plan, and plans to annually assess whether local VA and Labor partners are implementing the key elements of the national VA/Labor agreement: 1) yearly reporting, 2) staff evaluations including partnership activities, 3) state-level MOAs, 4) information sharing, 5) unemployment insurance wage data, 6) team approach beginning early in the rehabilitation process, 7) advising Chapter 31 participants of state workforce agency (SWA) benefits, 8) referral process, 9) identification of points of contact, and 10) SWA staff co-located at least part-time within VA offices. As part of this effort, the Joint Work Group plans to annually review self assessments and local MOAs from one-third of the partnership sites to assess the status of the partnership and ensure that the Technical Assistance Guide is being implemented properly. The Joint Work Group plans to provide feedback and technical assistance to sites that report difficulties implementing the MOAs. In addition, the Joint Work Group expects that the annual information provided by these partnership sites will enable them to identify general areas in need of improvement and best practices. Finally, the Joint Work Group plans to compile annual reports summarizing the information provided by the partnership sites to be shared with senior leadership within both VA and Labor.

    Recommendation: To ensure the complete and timely implementation of the agreement, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VETS and VRE to collect and assess complete information on the progress of the states in implementing the agreement using well-designed and appropriate methodology, such as a systematic review of state-level memorandums of agreements or a comprehensive survey of all locations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA and Labor have developed partnerships with state workforce agencies and Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. For example, the agencies held a National Joint Employment Conference with the Rehabilitation Services Administration in September 2010. At the conference, VA Employment Coordinators (EC) and VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors had the opportunity to network with State Business Consultants and State Rehabilitation Counselors. The agencies expect that, through these local partnerships, VA ECs will work with other service providers to ensure that veterans outside an EC's immediate area receive needed employment services. VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors in outbased locations also supplement employment services provided to veterans who are in their jurisdiction, but outside of the EC's immediate area.

    Recommendation: To ensure the employment coordinator role is being used in the most effective and efficient way possible without duplication of other available services, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, should direct VRE to determine how best to use the employment coordinator in serving veterans located outside the employment coordinator's local area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VR&E Service has implemented a reporting tool to collect data about specific assistance provided by Employment Coordinators.

    Recommendation: To ensure the employment coordinator role is being used in the most effective and efficient way possible without duplication of other available services, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, should direct VRE to undertake additional efforts to review how the employment coordinator role has been carried out at the regional level, especially vis-a-vis staff of other workforce agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of the DOL and VR&E Joint Work Group, local memorandums of understanding have been implemented to delineate the roles of Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Coordinators (DVOPs), Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVERs), and Employment Coordinators in providing services to assist veterans. DVOPs and LVERs are co-located in 60 VR&E offices and work as part of an overall team to ensure services provided by team members are complementary.

    Recommendation: To ensure the employment coordinator role is being used in the most effective and efficient way possible without duplication of other available services, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, should direct VRE to determine how this position could best be used in light of other services available to VA program participants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While VA has not modified the national employment coordinator position description, the agency has undertaken other efforts that meet the intent of this recommendation. Specifically, all employment coordinators have completed a training course that includes a module on the agency's partnership with Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service and state workforce agencies. This module focuses on the purpose of the partnership, shared roles, referral process, communication, reporting, and protecting veterans' privacy.

    Recommendation: To ensure the employment coordinator role is being used in the most effective and efficient way possible without duplication of other available services, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, should direct VRE to modify the national employment coordinator position description accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VR&E Service is currently tracking veteran and staff usage of Job Resource Labs (JRLs) nationally. The data show that veterans are using the JRLs for creating resumes, developing job-seeking skills, researching employment opportunities, and applying for jobs. VR&E Employment Coordinator and VETS staff co-located at the JRL sites assist veterans using the JRLs. Many VR&E offices conduct initial orientations, group testing and job-seeking skills workshops at the JRLs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that resources spent on job resource labs are used efficiently and effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VRE to undertake additional efforts to review the number of veterans using the job resource labs and ways in which veterans are using them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VR&E Service has tracked information on the use of Job Resource Labs (JRLs) nationally. The data show that veterans are using the JRLs for creating resumes, developing job-seeking skills, researching employment opportunities, and applying for jobs. In addition, Many VR&E offices conduct initial orientations, group testing and job-seeking skills workshops at the JRLs. In September 2008, VR&E Service established Employment Coordinator Field Liaisons to serve as subject matter experts and provide guidance on the delivery of employment services and use of JRLs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that resources spent on job resource labs are used efficiently and effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VRE to undertake additional efforts to assess and offer regional offices direction on how the labs could be better used.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA has continued to develop partnerships with the Department of Labor (Labor) and other agencies, including non-profits, veterans service organizations, and businesses. VA and Labor take a team approach to employment services. For example, all veterans entering VA's vocational rehabilitation program are informed of the employment assistance available through the state workforce agency and are encouraged to register with this agency. VA and Labor also coordinate by informing veterans about the job resource lab or one-stop center most convenient to him or her.

    Recommendation: To ensure that resources spent on job resource labs are used efficiently and effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VRE to undertake additional efforts to determine whether there are additional opportunities to coordinate with other agencies and organizations, such as local one-stop career centers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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