VA Benefits:

Outcome Measures and More Outreach Would Enhance the Post-9/11 On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship Programs

GAO-16-215T: Published: Nov 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 2015.

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Andrew Sherrill
(202) 512-7215
sherrilla@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

In 2011, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits—initially available only for higher education—were expanded to cover on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs. Veterans surveyed and interviewed by GAO for its November 2015 report said the Post-9/11 OJT and apprenticeship programs helped them transition to civilian life. In addition, employers and apprenticeship sponsors who responded to GAO’s surveys cited a number of benefits for participating, including recruitment and retention. Of the approximately 1.2 million veterans who used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits since October 2011, about 27,000—or about 2 percent—participated in OJT or apprenticeship programs, according to VA program data.

GAO also found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) primarily provides information about the OJT and apprenticeship programs through mandatory briefings for transitioning servicemembers and on its website. While VA’s outreach efforts include some information on these programs, VA’s mandatory briefings and web resources generally emphasize higher education and lack sufficient detail for veterans to reasonably understand how to use their GI Bill benefits for OJT and apprenticeships. State officials GAO surveyed reported conducting outreach in a variety of ways, such as attending job fairs and speaking to veterans’ groups. However, without more detailed information on these programs, veterans may not be able to fully understand these benefits.

Key challenges faced by veterans and employers in using these programs include lack of awareness and administrative burdens, according to state officials, veterans, and employers GAO surveyed. Most state officials surveyed reported that veterans’ lack of awareness about the programs is a primary challenge they face in facilitating veteran (39 of 44) and employer (39 of 43) participation. Further, over half of state officials surveyed (24 of 42) cited challenges related to VA’s current paper-based processing system, which requires employers to fax or mail monthly forms to VA in order for a veteran to receive benefits. In addition, 11 of 15 employers and apprenticeship sponsors GAO interviewed said the process is burdensome or inefficient, and 6 of 28 veterans GAO interviewed said their benefits have sometimes been delayed. VA is developing a new data system, but it may not be implemented until 2017 at the earliest, according to VA officials, and administrative challenges in the interim could hinder program participation.

In addition, little is known about the performance of VA’s Post-9/11 GI Bill OJT and apprenticeship programs because VA does not measure program outcomes, such as whether participants retain employment after completing the program. Absent such information, GAO examined Department of Labor (DOL) outcome data for its related OJT and apprenticeship programs, which indicate the potential for positive outcomes for these training models.  Federal standards for internal control call for establishing and reviewing performance measures to allow an agency to evaluate relevant data and take appropriate actions. Without such measures, VA is limited in its ability to assess its programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

As the military draws down its forces, many veterans will enter the civilian workforce and may seek educational and training opportunities to further their transition into civilian jobs. Because pursuing a higher education degree may not be the best path for some veterans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill OJT and apprenticeship programs provide alternative opportunities.

This testimony is based on GAO’s November 2015 report on this topic and provides (1) a description of how selected veterans and employers have used the Post-9/11 OJT and apprenticeship programs and how widely the programs have been used; (2) an assessment of the extent to which VA and states have taken steps to inform veterans and employers about these programs; (3) information about the challenges veterans and employers reported facing in using the programs; and (4) an analysis of the extent to which VA has assessed the performance and effectiveness of the programs.

For its November 2015 report, GAO analyzed VA and DOL program data; surveyed state officials in all 44 states responsible for overseeing VA’s OJT and apprenticeship programs; conducted non-generalizable surveys of randomly selected veterans and employers; conducted site visits in 2 states and interviewed state officials from an additional 11 states selected for their range in number of OJT and apprenticeship programs and geographic location; and analyzed outreach materials related to these programs.

What GAO Recommends

In its November 2015 report, GAO recommended that VA improve outreach, ease administrative challenges, and establish outcome measures for its OJT and apprenticeship program. VA agreed with GAO’s conclusions and concurred with all three recommendations.

For more information, contact Andrew Sherrill at 202-512-7215 or sherrilla@gao.gov.

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