Supports and Services for Transitioning Veterans
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.
With more veterans returning from service around the world, helping them overcome their transition challenges—such as unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues, and disability-related issues—is even more important. However, some of the supports and services that can help veterans during a time of transition have key weaknesses, thereby increasing the risk that some veterans will have difficulties adjusting to civilian life.
- Transition assistance: While many veterans who served in the military after September 11, 2001, have successfully readjusted to civilian life with minimal difficulties in the first few years after they were discharged, others have experienced difficulties. While an array of VA benefits and services are available during a veteran's first few years out of the military, there are long-standing challenges with VA's delivery and management of this support. Also, VA and other federal agencies are re-vamping the Transition Assistance Program, which among other things connects discharging servicemembers to available benefits and services. But these efforts have been hampered by limitations in how the agencies evaluate the program’s performance as well as challenges with effectively serving members of the Reserves and National Guard.
- Benefits processing: The average time for VA to process disability compensation claims rose to 260 days in 2012, partly because of delays in receiving medical records from other federal agencies and shortcomings of VA’s claims processing system. However, VA recently reported it is making progress. VA reports that as of September 30, 2015, the inventory of backlogged disability claims pending over 125 days was about 71,350 (down from about 611,000 in March 2013). Yet, VA also reports that the processing time for all appeals resolved in fiscal year 2015 was 3.1 years; those appeals that reach the Board of Veterans’ Appeals take, on average, over 5 years.
- Education: With regard to benefits available to the general veteran population for post-secondary education, VA has taken only limited steps to counsel veterans and protect them from schools which provide inaccurate information or pressure them to enroll. VA identified $416 million in Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 overpayments in fiscal year 2014, affecting approximately one in four veteran beneficiaries. Overpayments most often occur 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 therefore receive benefits for classes they did not complete, and the “overpayment” must generally be paid back to VA. Many veterans may not realize they can incur overpayments as a result of enrollment changes because VA provides limited guidance to veterans on its policies.
- Entrepreneurship:The VA’s preferential contracting program for small businesses owned by service-disabled and other veterans has been hampered by shortcomings in its strategic plan and data system.
- Homelessness: Data suggests the number of homeless women veterans has doubled in recent years, but VA lacks information on the characteristics and needs of this population.
GAO-16-42: Published: Oct 21, 2015. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 2015.
GAO-14-676: Published: Sep 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2014.
GAO-14-324: Published: May 13, 2014. Publicly Released: May 13, 2014.
GAO-14-144: Published: Mar 5, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 2014.
GAO-13-89: Published: Dec 21, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 18, 2013.
GAO-12-182: Published: Dec 23, 2011. Publicly Released: Jan 23, 2012.
GAO-16-762T: Published: Jun 22, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2016.
GAO-16-227T: Published: Jan 12, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 12, 2016.
GAO-15-582: Published: Sep 1, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2015.
GAO-15-518: Published: Jul 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2015.
GAO-15-735T: Published: Jul 15, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2015.
GAO-15-464: Published: Jun 2, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 2, 2015.
GAO-15-77: Published: Nov 25, 2014. Publicly Released: Nov 25, 2014.
GAO-15-50: Published: Nov 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Nov 19, 2014.
GAO-15-24: Published: Nov 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2014.
GAO-14-854R: Published: Sep 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 2014.