GAO analyzes veterans services

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Jan. 17 on the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Services. The report also analyzes employment services provided by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Six federal veterans employment and training programs served nearly 900,000 participants at a cost of more than $1 billion in fiscal 2011, offering similar services, largely targeted to different groups. Despite this effort, the unemployment rate for recently separated veterans is higher than that of the civilian population. And with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the number of servicemembers transitioning to the civilian workforce over the next three to five years is expected to increase.

The GAO report focused on the variation in services from the six programs, coordination among the six groups and their successes. The report shows how the six programs serve different subgroups within the veteran community.

• Transition Assistance Program (TAP) - Transitioning servicemembers and their spouses.

• Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) - Homeless veterans.

• Vocational Rehabilitation Program - Service-connected disabled veterans.

While remaining programs serve a broader group of veterans, DoL wants to eliminate the Veteran’s Workforce Investment Program due to the increasingly high cost per placement into employment for program participants.

The expanding DoD employment assistance to National Guard and reserve members does not have service agreements with DoL or VA programs beyond access to TAP. DoD contends these programs are necessary for Guard and reserve members because they may not meet DoL or VA veteran status requirements. And while the DoD, DoL and VA programs may offer similar services, there are no interagency agreements coordinating these efforts, which the GAO report contends leads to a duplication of services.

In the report, GAO made these recommendations:

1. DoL and VA should offer additional guidance to state agencies implementing the federal programs.

2. DoD efforts should be recognized and incorporated into the overall employment and training efforts.

3. Performance goals and outcomes should be reported for each of the programs and should be reported on a regular basis.

4. Determine, to the best extent possible, whether veterans’ employment success is due to federal program participation or the result of other factors.

The American Legion has long supported DoL’s lead role in providing employment services to the nation’s veterans and transitioning servicemembers. GAO’s recommendations fall in line with many Legion resolutions. The Economic Division will be closely monitoring DoL to ensure that the VETS program adheres to GAO’s recommendations and implements these changes in a timely manner.

In other news:

Veteran homelessness: The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) released its annual Hunger and Homelessness report that points out a concerning dilemma for families and individuals experiencing hunger and homelessness: an increase in demand for services with no increase in services provided.

The report is the result of a survey of the 25 cities involved in USCM’s Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness. The 25 communities surveyed for the report give a more in-depth look at their communities and programs within each of their cities that are working to meet the needs of the homeless. To view the press release and full report, click here.

Resolution No. 306 (passed at the 94th National Convention) states that:

• The American Legion renew its commitment to assisting homeless veterans and their families;

• The American Legion continue to support the efforts of public- and private-sector agencies and organizations with the resources necessary to aid homeless veterans and their families; and,

• The American Legion seek and support any legislative or administrative proposal that will provide medical, rehabilitative, and employment assistance to homeless veterans and their families.

Jobless rate: The national unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, as of December 2012. For Iraq war veterans, the rate is 10.8 percent. Currently, the unemployment rate for Iraq war women veterans is 15.7 percent (up from last month’s 12.9 percent).

Tuition help: Reps. Jeff Miller and Mike Michaud, chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, introduced H.R. 357, which would require public colleges and universities to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-state tuition rate. The Economic Division staff has been working with staff members from Miller’s and Michaud’s offices since last year as the legislation was being crafted. The Economic Division has also been working closely and collaboratively with the Department of Defense and the Student Veterans of America on this issue.

Lobbying on the Hill: Over the past two weeks, Legislative Division staff members have been delivering welcome packets to newly elected members of Congress. These packets contained a personalized welcome letter from National Commander James Koutz, a drop sheet of our organization’s legislative priorities, a pamphlet outlining the Legislative Division’s Guiding Resolutions and a DVD. These packets were hand-delivered so that Legislative staff could introduce themselves and begin to develop working relationships with new congressional staff members.

Council recommendations due: The Legislative Division continues the task of rebuilding the membership of the National Legislative Council for the 113th Congress. Council recommendation forms were emailed to department leadership in December, asking for nominations for new congressional members. Completed forms were due in the Legislative Division offices in Washington by Jan. 18. To date, 25 departments have returned their council nomination forms. The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be overstated. It is an especially important voice for The American Legion Family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Departments are urged to complete their nomination forms and return them to the Legislative Division offices as soon as possible.

Assisting women veterans: On Jan. 23, the Economic Division met with Wanda Petty, founder of the Resource Foundation for Women Veterans (RFWV), to discuss objectives for 2013 and to see if there is room for collaboration. The American Legion has worked with RFWV in the past with the Hiring our Heroes Initiative; however, there may be other places where the two organizations can align their efforts towards the same goals. RFVW currently is in the midst of creating low-rent housing for women veterans in the D.C./Maryland region with comprehensive benefit services and job placement services. RFWV is seeking to establish small business/entrepreneurial classes for women veterans and expand their services to Colorado and Texas this year.

Hiring veterans: Hiring our Heroes (HOH) recently hosted its 400th hiring event in less than two years. HOH Executive Director Kevin Schmeigel from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce credited the Legion for its role. "Our partnerships with The American Legion, ESGR and other veteran-friendly organizations have allowed us to host hiring fairs without charging any registration fees for employers or jobseekers," Schmeigel said. "The fact that these fairs are free makes them accessible to many of the small businesses we believe are making an impact on veteran and spouse unemployment in this country. It is what allows us to host 400 of them in two years. Today is an important landmark for our program, but it is just one step on the path to getting half a million heroes hired by the end of 2014."

Stolen Valor Act: The American Legion is supporting a newly introduced bill that would enhance current federal legislation that punishes those who falsely represent themselves as decorated military heroes. A provision in the proposed law would answer the Legion’s call to prosecute those who lie about being awarded certain medals and decorations in order to gain veterans’ benefits. The new Stolen Valor Act of 2013 is H.R.258, and was introduced into the 113th Congress by Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada. Heck’s bill immediately gained bipartisan support with 71 co-sponsors as of Jan. 24 and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. All members of the Legion family are encouraged to write their members of Congress to support passage of this legislation.

Benefits claims: During the week ending Jan. 18, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 144 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 66.7 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 43 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 53 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims that mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 45 (31.3 percent) were outright denials.

Also during this period, the BVA Appeals Unit reviewed, prepared written Informal Hearing Presentations (IHP), and/or orally argued 140 veteran’s appeals. These claims included originals andremands, as well as specialty cases (Advance on Docket, Independent Medical Opinions, Court Remands, etc.). The BVA unit handled numerous telephone inquiries and provided consultations with veterans, VSOs and Congressional Offices. The administrative team completed 179 phone inquires during this period. The appeal representatives provided assistance for two (2) walk-in veterans for their respective VA Central Office Hearings.