Print this page

Training, employment, and education > 17. Veterans' Employment and Training

The Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Defense need to better coordinate the employment services each provides to veterans, and Labor needs to better target the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program so that it does not overlap with other programs.

Why This Area Is Important

In fiscal year 2011, the federal government spent an estimated $1.2 billion on six veterans’ employment and training programs, serving about 880,000 participants. The Department of Labor (Labor) administers five of these programs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers one. In addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) expanded the employment assistance it provides to National Guard and Reserve members who may face unique challenges associated with being reintegrated into the civilian workforce multiple times during their military careers. Despite these efforts, the unemployment rate for veterans who have recently separated from the military is higher than that for other veterans and nonveterans. Moreover, more than 1 million service members are projected to separate from the military and transition to civilian life from 2011 to 2016. Because there are multiple programs spread across multiple agencies and demand for services will likely increase, it is important to understand (1) the services these programs provide, (2) whom the services are provided to, (3) the steps agencies have taken to coordinate their efforts, and (4) the employment outcomes of participants.

What GAO Found

In December 2012, GAO reported that the six federal veterans’ programs provide similar services (e.g., job placement) but largely serve different populations. The following programs provide employment and training services to a specific population:

  • Labor’s Transition Assistance Program serves transitioning service members and their spouses,
  • Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program serves homeless veterans, and
  • VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program (Vocational Rehabilitation) serves veterans with service-connected disabilities.[1]

The remaining three programs serve a broader population of veterans. Labor’s Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program serves veterans with significant barriers to employment, among others.[2] Labor is currently requesting that Congress defund this program.[3] Of the two remaining programs, the Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program and the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program can serve all eligible veterans.[4] Veterans generally obtain access to the Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program by first participating in the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program. The Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program has the most potential overlap with the other veterans’ employment and training programs, as well as with Labor’s other workforce programs available to the general population, because of its broad definition of who can be eligible for the program. Because this overlap could result in duplication, GAO focused in detail on the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program’s target population and services.

Federal law prioritizes certain populations of veterans for services provided by the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program,[5] but Labor’s guidance does not provide states with information to assist them in prioritizing veterans for services. Federal law governing the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program makes all veterans who meet the broad definition of “eligible veteran” eligible for its services, but gives disabled veterans and economically or educationally disadvantaged veterans the highest priority for services. However, Labor’s guidance does not define what it means to be economically or educationally disadvantaged, leaving states—which administer the program using federal funds—without criteria to help them prioritize veterans based on these attributes, thereby potentially diluting the targeting that the law intended. The law also generally requires that Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program staff provide participants with intensive services (e.g., individual employment plans),[6] but Labor’s data indicate that nationally 28 percent of participants received such services in 2011. In explaining this statistic, Labor officials said one possible explanation was that staff enroll people who do not need intensive services. Labor said it plans to develop guidance on prioritizing services, and it also has a six-state pilot to improve monitoring of who receives program services that may help to better prioritize services. Labor expects these efforts to be completed in early 2013.

In 2008, Labor and VA compiled a handbook intended to guide the roles of their respective staff in coordinating services to disabled veterans; however, they have not updated the handbook. In addition, Labor and VA have not included related DOD employment initiatives available to certain segments of the veteran population, such as National Guard and Reserve members, in their interagency agreements. Through interviews with VA and Labor officials, GAO identified two instances in which sections of the handbook are subject to misunderstanding or provide insufficient guidance that resulted in challenges meeting desired program outcomes and may have made having successful employment outcomes more difficult for program participants. They pertain to incorporating labor market information into rehabilitation plans and finding “suitable employment” for participants. For example, the handbook says Labor and VA are to coordinate to achieve “suitable employment”—employment that follows the veteran’s rehabilitation plan and does not aggravate the disability. However, it does not explicitly say how staff should navigate situations where a veteran’s financial need or preferences do not align with this goal. For example, Labor officials noted that some veterans may choose to accept a job that pays more than a “suitable” job choice, which may, in the long run, aggravate their disability. In such instances, program staff may work at cross-purposes and veterans may accept jobs that do not count as suitable employment. Further, DOD is expanding its employment assistance to National Guard and Reserve members, some of whom may also meet Labor and VA veterans’ program eligibility requirements. However, DOD does not have an interagency agreement that would allow it to effectively coordinate with Labor and VA. Absent an updated handbook and integration of DOD into the coordination framework, there is an increased risk for poor coordination. Currently there is some evidence that the lack of coordination may be affecting Labor resources and confusing employers. For example, according to Labor officials, Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program staff participation at DOD job fairs reduces the amount of time available for their primary duties, such as providing intensive services to program participants.[7]

The information Labor reports makes determining the extent to which each program is achieving its annual performance goals difficult, and the research Labor and VA have conducted does not provide them with information on their programs’ effectiveness. Labor sets annual performance goals for its veterans’ employment and training programs, but it does not consistently report the results relative to those goals in its annual veterans’ program report. And even though Labor is not required to report program outcomes in relation to goals in this report, it reports outcomes and goals for its other workforce programs that are aimed at the general population. Moreover, while both Labor and VA have studies completed or under way, neither has conducted impact evaluations that assess program effectiveness to determine whether outcomes are attributable to program participation and not other factors. As a result, Congress and other key stakeholders lack essential information needed to assess each program’s performance and hold federal agencies accountable for achieving results.

[1]38 U.S.C. § 3102(a). To receive Vocational Rehabilitation program services, veterans generally must have at least a 20 percent disability rating and an employment handicap. Veterans with a 10 percent disability rating may also be entitled to receive services if they have a serious employment handicap.

[2]The program also serves veterans with service-connected disabilities; veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces during a war, campaign, or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized; and recently separated veterans.

[3]Labor seeks to defund the program because of the increasingly high cost per placement into employment for program participants. Labor found that other employment and training programs could provide the same service at a lower cost or with stronger accountability measures.

[4]“Eligible veteran” is defined as a person who meets one of the following criteria:
(1) served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days and was discharged or released with other than a dishonorable discharge; (2) was discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability; (3) as a member of a reserve component under an order to active duty under certain circumstances, served on active duty during a period of war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized, and was discharged or released from such duty with other than a dishonorable discharge; or (4) was discharged or released from active duty by reason of a sole survivorship discharge. See 38 U.S.C. § 4101(4), which incorporates the definition from 38 U.S.C. § 4211(4).

[5]38 U.S.C. § 4103A(a).


[7]The law generally requires that program staff provide participants with intensive services (e.g., case management).

Actions Needed

GAO recommended in December 2012 that the Secretary of Labor take the following action:

  • consistently report both performance goals and associated performance outcomes for each of its veterans’ employment and training programs.

GAO also recommended that the Secretaries of Labor and VA take the following two actions:

  • incorporate additional guidance to address the two problem areas GAO identified into any update to the interagency handbook that governs their coordination for veterans’ employment and training programs; and

  • to the extent possible, determine the extent to which veterans’ employment outcomes result from program participation or are the result of other factors.

Finally, GAO further recommended that the Secretaries of Labor, VA, and DOD take the following action:

  • incorporate DOD’s employment assistance initiatives into the agreements that guide interagency coordination.

Implementing these recommendations will help (1) increase the effectiveness of coordination efforts for programs administered by different federal agencies, (2) ensure that government resources are used efficiently, and (3) enhance transparency and accountability for achieving results. In addition, it will be important for Labor to complete its ongoing efforts to develop guidance on prioritizing services for the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program and finalize new monitoring protocols.

How GAO Conducted Its Work

The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the December 2012 report listed in the related GAO products section.[1] As part of that report, GAO reviewed the six programs that targeted veterans and were identified in its January 2011 report that analyzed all federal employment and training programs. Labor oversees five of the programs that target veterans: (1) the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program, (2) the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program, (3) the Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program, (4) the Transition Assistance Program, and (5) the Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program. VA oversees the sixth program: the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. GAO also included in its analysis three Labor programs that are available to the general population, which includes veterans: the Workforce Investment Act Adult and Dislocated Worker Programs and the Employment Service Program. In examining coordination, GAO also included two DOD programs that have recently begun providing employment services: (1) the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program, and (2) the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. GAO also analyzed agency data on participant characteristics, services received, and outcomes and policy documents, relevant federal laws and regulations, reports, and studies; GAO also interviewed federal and regional officials and state officials in six states: Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. These states were selected to achieve geographic and demographic diversity. Furthermore, GAO used data from the Labor Exchange Reporting System and Veterans’ Employment and Training Service Operations and Programs Activity Report data system for program years 2006 to 2010. GAO also used data from the VA Corporate Case Management System for fiscal years 2006 to 2011. In addition, GAO used fiscal year 2011 data from the Defense Manpower Data Center. Table 15 in appendix IV lists the programs GAO identified that might have similar or overlapping objectives, provide similar services, or be fragmented across government missions. Overlap and fragmentation might not necessarily lead to actual duplication, and some degree of overlap and duplication may be justified.

[1]GAO, Veterans’ Employment and Training: Better Targeting, Coordinating, and Reporting Needed to Enhance Program Effectiveness, GAO-13-29 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 13, 2012.)

Agency Comments & GAO Contact

In commenting on the December 2012 report on which this analysis is based, Labor, VA, and DOD generally agreed with the recommendations. Both Labor and VA said they would work to enhance coordination with each other with respect to additional guidance in their interagency handbook. All three agencies said they would work to ensure that interagency coordination included DOD. In response to GAO’s recommendation on reporting program performance, Labor said it will explore ways to increase consistency and transparency of the information it reports. In response to GAO’s recommendation to Labor and VA regarding assessing program effectiveness, VA agreed and Labor did not specify whether or not it agreed. Labor said that it is committed to robust program evaluation and that each agency, including Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, develops an annual evaluation agenda and sets priorities. Labor said it has a multicomponent agenda for evaluating services to veterans and cited some current studies, such as a study of the Transition Assistance Program and a statistical analysis of services received by veterans and the services’ outcomes using the public workforce system. Obtaining information about the effectiveness of veterans’ programs is important because such information can assist Congress in assessing program results and identifying areas where adjustments may be needed. As Labor and VA conduct research on program outcomes, considering approaches that would enable them to separate the impact of their programs from other factors that might influence participants’ outcomes will be important.

GAO provided a draft of this report section to the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense for review and comment. These three agencies did not provide comments on this report section.

For additional information about this area, contact Andrew Sherrill at (202) 512-7215 or

Related Products

Explore Other Areas

Jump to another area below related to this mission.