Employment Services and Supports Available to Veterans with Disabilities Through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Other Federal Agencies

DRC Working Paper Number 2014-03
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy
Mar 30, 2014
Authors
Michael West and John Kregel
  • Employment services for veterans with disabilities are hindered by a lack of basic information on program participation, performance outcomes, and veterans’ satisfaction.
  • Many of the federal programs have little or no readily available data regarding the numbers of veterans with disabilities served or their employment outcomes. Lack of sufficient data does not allow rigorous evaluations of program effectiveness.
  • Multiple reports have documented a lack of coordination within and between federal agencies related to existing veterans employment services. Poor coordination has led to duplicated efforts, confusion on the part of those in need of assistance, and poor outcomes.

The number of military personnel incurring disability in current military conflicts is the highest in over three decades. Since 2001, over 1.6 million service members, Reservists, and National Guard have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern nations. As noted by Lew et al. (2007), advances in medical innovations and body armor have enabled 90 percent of soldiers to survive injuries that would have likely been fatal in previous wars, but many service personnel survive with serious physical and psychological disabilities.

The federal government has recently responded to the growing number of service members with disabilities in several ways. President Obama has signed executive orders to improve federal government hiring of veterans and to require federal agencies to contract with veteran owned agencies. The 2011 American Jobs Act added tax credits to employers hiring veterans with service connected disabilities. That same year, the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act was passed and signed into law. The VOW Act provides additional tax credit and training funds for unemployed veterans to prepare them for employment.

Many federal agencies will be involved in the implementation of these initiatives. Employment services and supports for veterans with disabilities are primarily provided by the VA, but the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Labor (DOL) also operate programs specifically targeting veterans with disabilities. Veterans also access other employment service programs that target all individuals with disabilities or persons in need of specialized support to obtain employment.

This report provides an overview of federally-funded employment services and supports that can be accessed by veterans with disabilities, including those designed to meet the needs of the disabled veteran population specifically, the veteran population in general, and the disability population in general. The purpose is to present a comprehensive cataloging and review of all employment resources that veterans with disabilities can access in pursuit of wage and self-employment.

Employment services and support programs are identified in seven major areas: Department of Veterans Affairs; Department of Defense; Department of Labor; Rehabilitation Services Administration; Small Business Administration; Social Security Administration; and Cross-Agency initiatives. In each instance, we provide an overview of each program, describe the eligibility criteria, and identify the types of services provided. We then discuss available information related to program participation and performance, as well as the results of any evaluations of each program.

The review identified 27 programs across eight agencies. The programs varied widely in terms of purpose, eligibility criteria and intensity of services. Consistent with previous findings, the programs that we reviewed lacked detailed information on program participation and treatment effectiveness. As a result, we found that many agencies lacked the evaluation information necessary to modify and improve program performance.

The review also identified a number of promising programs. Rigorous evaluations of supported employment programs operated by the Veterans Affair's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) supported employment programs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and spinal cord injury (SCI) have documented the effectiveness of this service. These studies have identified a highly replicable evidence-based model that can be expanded throughout the VR&E service network.

Employment services for veterans with disabilities are hindered by a lack of basic information on program participation, performance outcomes, and veterans’ satisfaction. In general, the review found that many of the federal programs have little or no readily available data regarding the numbers of veterans with disabilities served or their employment outcomes. Lack of sufficient data does not allow rigorous evaluations of program effectiveness. Finally, multiple reports have documented a lack of coordination within and between federal agencies related to existing veterans employment services. Poor coordination has led to duplicated efforts, confusion on the part of those in need of assistance, and poor outcomes.