The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Commission Meeting on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government - June 28, 2006

Statement of Judy Caden
Director, Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E)
Department of Veteran's Administration

June 28, 2006

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program delivers timely, effective vocational rehabilitation services to veterans with service-connected disabilities. These services enable injured soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and other veterans with disabilities to successfully transition from military service to suitable civilian careers.

For some severely disabled veterans, success will be to live independently, achieving the highest quality of life possible with a realized hope for employment given future advances in medical science and technology. The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment service strives to exceed the service delivery expectations of veterans and their families.

VR&E’s primary function is to help veterans who have service-connected disabilities become suitably employed, maintain employment, or achieve independence in daily living. To receive services a veteran must be found both eligible and entitled. The outcomes of these services lead to suitable employment that is consistent with their aptitudes and interests, or achieving independence in their daily living.

VR&E’s 5 Tracks to Employment

Traditionally, the VR&E program has included some form of skills training or college education. The majority of VR&E cases continue to follow this approach. However, a steadily increasing number of VR&E participants are following other paths to employment. Under VR&E’s 5 Tracks to Employment, veterans can follow the track most appropriate for their specific needs. The 5 Tracks to Employment are:

  1. Reemployment – This track is ideal for mobilized National Guardsmen and Reservists who are returning to work for a previous employer. Features may include job accommodations, job modification, case management, coordination of VA health care, advice on reemployment rights, work adjustment services, and employer consultation.
  2. Rapid Access to Employment – This track is designed for individuals who already have the necessary skills to be competitive in the job market in an appropriate occupation. These rehabilitation plans may include job readiness preparation, resume development, job search assistance, employment resource development, job accommodations, and post employment follow-up.
  3. Self-Employment – Individuals that make good self-employment candidates are those who have limited access to traditional employment, need flexible work schedules, or who need a more accommodating work environment due to their disabling conditions or other life circumstances. This plan may provide analysis of business concepts, business plan development, small business operation training, marketing and financial assistance and guidance on obtaining adequate resources to implement the business plan.
  4. Employment Through Long Term Services – This track is targeted to individuals who need specialized training and/or education to obtain and maintain suitable employment. This is the most traditional track, and may include on-the-job training, non-paid work experience, apprenticeships, internships, job shadowing, work monitoring, work-study, public-private job partnering, and higher education sufficient to obtain suitable entry-level employment.
  5. Independent Living Services – Individuals who cannot work right now can receive rehabilitation services to live more independently. These services may include assistive technology, independent living skills training, and connection to community-based support services.

VR&E Success Stories

Often veterans combine services under a successful vocational rehabilitation plan. An example of this is a U.S. Army veteran who was several months into a VR&E-sponsored computer systems training program in Indianapolis when he decided to supplement his classroom training with hands-on experience in the computer field. His VR&E Case Manager provided the veteran a referral to a non-paid work experience opportunity at the Office of Information Technology at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) in Indianapolis. Seven months later when a full-time paid position opened for a Help Desk Technician at IDEM, the veteran applied and was chosen through a competitive selection process. The position perfectly matched one of the long-term vocational goals listed in the veteran’s rehabilitation plan. Because of the veteran’s performance during his non-paid work experience, he was selected over other qualified candidates. As a result of his non-paid work experience, the veteran’s job search was shortened and he is now a successful, suitably employed IT Specialist.

VR&E has close working partnerships with employers nationwide that often lead to direct job placements. One example of this is VR&E’s relationship with the U.S. Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service’s Atlanta regional office. This office has served as a career springboard for several VR&E graduates. Two veterans, both former mail clerks, are now working in personnel management at the agency. A third veteran who is currently working in the mailroom has goals to move up the ladder into contracting at the agency with a boost from additional training arranged through VR&E. All three veterans have filled the same entry-level job in the mailroom of the Fish and Wildlife Service. This foot-in-the-mailroom-door allowed the first two veterans to win competitive selections to fill openings in the Human Resources division, which is similar to the work that both veterans did in the Army. The third veteran is participating in additional training provided by VR&E that will enable him to move up the ladder as well, into a position that utilizes his Air Force operations experience. These successful careers are directly related to the working relationship between VR&E and the Department of Interior. The partnership meets the hiring needs of a federal agency while enabling disabled veterans to find and maintain suitable employment.

The Coming Home to Work Initiative (CHTW)

The Coming Home to Work initiative (CHTW) is a part of VA’s early outreach efforts. Through this initiative, unpaid work experience in a government facility is made available to VR&E eligible service members pending medical separation from active duty at Military Treatment Facilities, with a special emphasis on Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) service members. Participants work with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to obtain volunteer or work experience in a Government facility that supports their career goals. Participants must have written permission from their military chain of command and medical care team to participate in CHTW. CHTW provides valuable civilian job skills, exposure to opportunities, and work experience history to service members facing medical separation from the military and uncertain futures.

CHTW provides VR&E eligible service members and veterans with the opportunity to obtain training and practical job experience by working in a Federal, State, or local government agency. Types of work may include administrative, clerical, professional, technical, or wage grade jobs. The government agency incurs no cost and has no obligation to hire the veteran participant; however, hiring the veteran is encouraged, when staffing and budget permit. The government agency has the opportunity to evaluate the veteran prior to consideration for hiring in a temporary or permanent position.

Under the 30% or More Disabled Veteran and the Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) direct hiring authorities, participants can be hired quickly and non-competitively. These direct hiring authorities provide value to both the veteran and the hiring manager. Many service members who participated in CHTW while their physical evaluation boards were pending at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC were hired to fill salaried positions with the VA immediately upon military separation. These positions were filled both in the Washington, DC area and at VA offices near the veteran’s home of record. Positions have been filled at grades ranging from GS-5 through GS-13 based on individual qualifications, and include management analysts, IT specialists, budget analysts, program support assistants, telecommunication specialists, technology assistants, program analysts, and contract specialists.

The initiative began in the Washington, DC area due to the very large population of injured service members from Iraq and Afghanistan receiving medical care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center. VR&E eligible service members at either Military Treatment Facility work directly with Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors from the Washington, DC VA Regional Office. Due to the success of CHTW participants in the Washington, DC area, the initiative is being deployed nationally. Currently, an additional 6 VA Regional Offices are implementing CHTW at the Military Treatment Facilities with the largest current or projected need. Need is based on the number of service members that are in a medical hold status and are expected to be separated from the military due to service-connected disabilities. The VA Regional Offices and Military Treatment Facilities under expansion include the following:

Our office is making site visits to each of these locations during the months of July, August, and September 2006 to support local implementation and gather information to be used in further expansion. Further expansion of CHTW will include additional sites where service members pending medical separation can benefit from this early outreach effort.

VR&E works closely with Department of Labor and Department of Defense in this outreach effort. Partnerships with REALifelines, the Computer and Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officers (PEBLOs), and the Medical Hold Companies are essential to the success of CHTW. Agencies that have shown interest and support in CHTW include the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Social Security Administration, and many more.

VR&E Graduates Employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs

In fiscal year 2005, 342 graduates of the VR&E program were hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the 1st and 2nd quarters of fiscal year 2006, 211 graduates of the VR&E program were hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, the employment of disabled veterans in the government sector does not end with the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the Southern area alone, which includes 12 VA Regional Offices, well over 400 VR&E graduates were placed into salaried positions in the government sector in fiscal year 2005. Over 160 of these veterans are applying their military experience in civilian positions at the Department of Defense. Other government agencies that are benefiting from the military experience of these VR&E graduates include:

By increasing awareness of direct hiring authorities for veterans, while providing disabled veterans with direct exposure to government opportunities, we can significantly increase the employment of disabled veterans in the government sector. Government agencies interested in providing work experience opportunities or hiring disabled veterans for salaried positions using direct hiring authorities may contact the office of Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment for assistance. Additional information on VR&E and CHTW is available at VA’s new employment website,

This page was last modified on June 28, 2006.

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