Key Issues > Supports and Services for Transitioning Veterans
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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.

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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: Since 2011, DOD, VA, and other federal agencies have been implementing a redesigned Transition Assistance Program, which among other things connects discharging servicemembers to available benefits and services to help ease their transition to civilian life. But these efforts have been hampered by limitations in how the agencies report the program’s performance as well as challenges with monitoring servicemember participation in required courses and other key areas of program implementation.  
 
Benefits processing: Although VA has various initiatives underway to improve VA disability benefits processing at both the initial claims and appeals levels, veterans continue to wait months and even years to receive disability compensation for injuries incurred during their service to the country. For initial disability claims, VA has reported progress toward reducing the backlog of initial claims awaiting a decision for more than 125 days (from a high of 611,000 in March 2013 to 76,000 in July 2018). However, VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported in 2018 that VA overstated its performance in this area by, for example, only reporting about 79 percent of the claims pending over 125 days, according to OIG estimates. In addition, the agency faces challenges managing its appeals backlog. Specifically, due to the backlog of appeals, VA reports that for appeals resolved in fiscal year 2017, veterans waited an average of 3 years from the date they initiated their appeal to resolution by either the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) or the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). The process often involves a remand by the Board to VBA for additional information, which further lengthens the time to resolve a claim. To address timeliness and other challenges, VA intends to fully implement a new disability appeals process in early 2019. However, VA needs to create a stronger foundation of sound planning practices to better position the agency in its implementation of appeals processes.
 
Education: The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 pays benefits to help veterans finance post-secondary education. 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 receive benefits for classes they did not complete. In fiscal year 2014, VA identified $416 million in such overpayments, affecting approximately one in four veteran beneficiaries. 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; however, they are still responsible for paying the overpayment back to VA.
 
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Veterans' Education BenefitsTuesday, May 13, 2014
  • portrait of Elizabeth H. Curda
    • Elizabeth H. Curda
    • Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security
    • curdae@gao.gov
    • 202-512-7215