VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program:
GAO Comments on Key Task Force Findings and Recommendations
GAO-04-853: Published: Jun 15, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2004.
This report responds to a request by the Ranking Minority Member, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for an analysis of the findings and recommendations contained in the March 2004 report of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Task Force on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E). The mission of the VR&E program is to provide comprehensive services and assistance necessary to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities and employment handicaps to become employable, then obtain and maintain stable and suitable employment. We agreed to review and comment on the Task Force report's key findings and recommendations and make general observations about these findings and recommendations in light of our previous and ongoing work in the area.
In summary, we generally agree with the Task Force's three key findings. We agree that VR&E has not been a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) priority in terms of returning veterans with service-connected disabilities to the workforce. GAO has reported that the VR&E program emphasized education and not employment, and we have recommended that VBA focus on obtaining suitable employment for disabled veterans. Although we have not specifically reviewed VR&E's capacity to manage its workload, we agree that many of the VR&E management systems identified by the Task Force as needing improvement are fundamental to the proper functioning of all federal programs. Finally, we agree that the VR&E program needs to be modernized. We have designated VA disability programs as high risk in part because they use outmoded criteria for determining disability. Regarding the Task Force recommendations, we observed that disabled veterans might continue to use the program for education in the absence of an equally beneficial alternative, even if VR&E adds employment tracks to reflect veterans' diverse employment-related needs. Furthermore, implementing the Task Force recommendations will be a major challenge for VBA.