After their service ends, many veterans face challenges when transitioning back to civilian life. The Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies offer supports and services to facilitate this transition.
Helping veterans overcome challenges to transitioning to civilian life—such as unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues, and disability-related issues—is essential. Federal agencies could improve some of the supports and services that can help veterans during these times of transition.
In 2011, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and other federal agencies began to implement a redesigned Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for veterans. This program connects discharging servicemembers to benefits and services to help ease their transition to civilian life. Active-duty servicemembers are generally required to participate in this program, and federal agencies are required to report on participation rates. However, agencies faced a number of limitations with fulfilling these requirements.
Some of these agencies have worked to resolve this issue. For instance, DOD has enhanced its electronic monitoring of TAP participation, and begun posting participation compliance and career readiness data on its public website. However, DHS’s Coast Guard still lacks complete and reliable data on how many of its servicemembers participate in TAP.
VA has various efforts underway to improve the processing of veterans’ disability benefits, for both initial claims and appeals of claims decisions. These efforts include implementing reforms to reduce the number of backlogged claims and streamline the appeals process. However, a surge in disability claims and appeals—in part due to pandemic-related cancellations of disability exams and hearings—could result in veterans waiting to receive disability compensation for injuries incurred during their service.
- The number of backlogged initial claims doubled between March and September 2020.
- VA fell short of its 2020 goal for appeals hearings. Thousands of hearings were cancelled or postponed, which has delayed benefit decisions for many veterans.
VA has not fully developed plans to address risks to its capacity to address initial claims and appeals. The agency needs to create a stronger foundation of sound planning, assessment of risk, and evaluation practices to address this issue.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 pays benefits to help veterans finance post-secondary education. However, VA has faced some challenges with ensuring the effective disbursement of these benefits. For instance, when VA pays benefits based on a student’s enrollment at the beginning of the school term and the student later drops one or more classes (or withdraws from school altogether), students still receive benefits for classes they did not complete. In FY 2014, VA identified $416 million in such overpayments, affecting approximately one in four veteran beneficiaries. Yet many veterans may not realize they are responsible for paying this money back to VA because VA provides limited guidance on its policies.