The Department of Veterans Affairs provided help for veterans who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program offered a housing stipend and 12 months of tuition and fees for veterans to retrain for high-demand occupations.
More than 13,000 veterans used the program to enroll in training. VA collected a lot of data from schools and veterans on program benefits and challenges, but doesn't have any plans to use the data to formally evaluate the program.
We recommended identifying lessons learned to help VA improve any veteran retraining efforts or other benefits programs where quick implementation is necessary.
What GAO Found
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP). VRRAP included up to 12 months of housing and tuition assistance for veterans who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. VA certified the majority of applicants for VRRAP and obligated the majority of VRRAP funding, with some challenges reported by stakeholders. VA certified 22,851 of the 31,625 VRRAP applicants as eligible to participate in the program. Of those certified VRRAP applicants, over 50 percent enrolled in an education program, 19 percent went on to complete their education program, and 5 percent of those originally certified obtained employment. As of April 2023, VA reported that it had obligated 95 percent of the $386 million in VRRAP funds. VA spent an average of $17,270 per veteran. Selected stakeholders reported program benefits, such as the assistance the program provided to veterans without other educational resources. Stakeholders also reported challenges, such as VA's delayed program outreach efforts to veterans.
In implementing VRRAP, VA collected data on VRRAP participants as well as feedback from veterans and schools. These data highlight a number of program benefits and challenges, such as when participants found employment or issues with the amount or quality of support veterans received from VA, but VA had no plans to analyze the lessons that can be learned from its experience operating the program or validate and document them for future use. By implementing the key practices of a lessons-learned process, VA can leverage data it has already collected and improve future programs with insights from VRRAP (see fig.).
Key Practices of a Lessons-Learned Process
Why GAO Did This Study
VA carried out VRRAP as directed by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Later in 2021, the Training in High-demand Roles to Improve Veteran Employment Act made changes to VRRAP and includes a provision for GAO to report on the outcomes and effectiveness of VRRAP. This report reviews (1) VA's outreach efforts, VRRAP applications processed, and demographics for participating veterans; (2) program funds used and outcomes for participating veterans; (3) VRRAP benefits and challenges reported by surveyed veterans, selected veteran service organizations (VSO), and selected schools; and (4) steps VA has taken to identify lessons learned in the design and implementation of VRRAP.
To address the first two objectives, GAO analyzed VA data from March 2021 to December 2022 on its outreach efforts, analyzed VA data from April 2021 through March 2023 on participating veterans, analyzed VA data on participating schools as of February 2023, and analyzed Census American Community Survey data from 2021. To address the third and fourth objectives, GAO reviewed VA data from a survey of VRRAP participants and interviewed VA officials as well as nonrepresentative samples of four VSOs and nine participating schools. For the fourth objective, GAO also assessed VA's efforts to implement six key practices for collecting and using lessons learned.
GAO recommends that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs ensure that the Veterans Benefits Administration's Education Service implements a lessons-learned process for VRRAP that aligns with lessons-learned key practices including analyzing, validating, and documenting lessons. VA said it concurs in principle and will conduct lessons learned for VRRAP.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Veterans Affairs||The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Veterans Benefits Administration's Education Service implements a lessons-learned process for VRRAP that aligns with lessons-learned key practices including analyzing, validating, and documenting lessons. (Recommendation 1)||