Employment for Veterans

Reprinted from PN August 2010

House subcommittee looks into Paralyzed Veterans of America employment program.

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Following testimony provided to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, at a hearing in April 2010, PVA received several follow-up questions regarding the status of veterans’ employment.

In recent hearings PVA discussed its vocational rehabilitation employment program and noted the success achieved in the four locations. During FY 2010, PVA will add two more locations for a total of six employment counselors working in VA hospitals.

As of May 2010, PVA had 566 veterans with spinal-cord injury/dysfunction registered in the program. Of that total, 97 have become employed. This is a higher rate for achieving employment among severely disabled veterans than the historical average.

PVA has reported in testimony that VA counselors try to discourage veterans with a disability rating over 60% from pursuing employment. They generally encourage veterans with severe disabilities to resubmit their claims to VA for a higher disability rating. With the counselors’ support, these vets would receive a higher disability rating and an increase in monthly income. This indirectly discourages them from attempting to look for work, or believing they could someday return to the work world.

The subcommittee also inquired about the states’ employment representatives who are hired for the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) or as a Local Veterans Employment Representative (LVER) in every state. Although these individuals work for state governments, the positions are made possible by federal funds from the Department of Labor (DOL). Unfortunately, these people are responsible not to DOL or VA but to the state government for which they work.

Improving the performance of the DVOP and LVER programs would require these programs be placed under the responsibility of the federal government. They would then report to the DOL’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS). Under this scenario, the two major problems with these positions would be addressed:

(1) It would place the mission under one manager and one chain of command. This would align all 2,000 of these veterans employment representatives with the same goals, training, and support effort.

(2) Congress would need to increase the pay for these positions, making them professional employment representatives of the federal government. Currently these are some of the lowest-paid positions in a state’s employment system. In many states they are considered a starting position within the state government. This gets the veteran’s foot in the door, until something better opens up. The moment a higher-paying position becomes available, the person leaves for another job. This does not support the development of a productive, effective employment representative to assist America’s unemployed veterans.

The subcommittee also inquired about what practices DOL should incorporate from PVA’s program. PVA explained that the success of its employment initiative is achieved by intense one-on-one case management for veterans with severe disabilities. This requires more specialized staff than are currently available in VA’s VR&E program and DOL’s DVOP and LVER program. PVA’s rehab employment is successful because counselors spend as much time finding employers willing to hire their veterans as they do working one-on-one with them. The prospective employers must be contacted, visited, and educated by the employment representative.

Through intense, mandatory training of the DVOPs and LVERs, future employers could be informed of the benefits of employing veterans with or without disabilities. The employers would understand that some flexibility may be required and perhaps some minor accommodations may need to be made to enable a veteran with a disability to join the work force.


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