Meeting of the Board of Regents | October 2009
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Rebecca H. Cort
Designing Our Future
Veterans Employment and Training Initiatives
October 1, 2009
Issue for Discussion
The implementation of vocational rehabilitation services and interagency activities in response to the emerging demands of veterans with disabilities.
Reason for Consideration
To inform the Regents and obtain their support for the proposed services and planned activities needed to assist veterans with disabilities in returning to the workforce.
This report is a follow-up to the January 23, 2009 presentation on the implementation of VESID’s “Designing Our Future” recommendations.
On January 23, 2009, VESID presented to the Board of Regents an outline of proposed steps to be taken to meet the challenging needs of veterans with disabilities as they reintegrate with their families, into the community and pursue career-oriented employment.
As part of the VESID veterans’ initiative, strong interagency partnerships have developed and initiatives have been undertaken to promote the availability of VESID services for employment. A summary of efforts to date includes the following:
- VESID convened an internal Veterans Workgroup made up of managers, vocational counselors and job developers from across the State. The Veterans Workgroup is comprised of several VESID personnel with extensive military experience. The Workgroup:
- Reviewed service options available to veterans with disabilities and their families and concluded that VESID’s primary veteran constituency includes those veterans with barriers to employment who have less than a 20 percent service-connected disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Identified several VESID best practices and promising opportunities for collaboration with the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) program and the VA's Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) programs.
- VESID has been an active participant on key activities of the NYS Council on Returning Veterans. The Council has been charged by the Governor to coordinate and develop supports to facilitate the seamless transition from military service to community living.
- VESID has engaged in cross-systems training on topics such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, NYS Veterans Tuition Assistance Program and treatment options for veterans experiencing post traumatic stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injuries.
- VESID has actively supported systemic reforms on behalf of New York's veterans including the successful passage of State legislation to expand the NYS Civil Service 55-b and 55-c affirmative hiring program for veterans with disabilities.
Who is today's veteran:
In an all volunteer military, many veterans had been intent on making the military their career. Consequently, today's veterans, on average, have five years of active duty, are typically 24 years of age and married with children.
The extensive deployment of reservists in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has skewed the demographics of returning veterans to an older cohort with established family and community ties. Reservists often have unique employment challenges based on whether they are able to resume work with their employer prior to deployment. As of January 2009, over 8,000 New Yorkers are deployed and we can anticipate the total number of veterans returning to New York averaging 5,000 per year for the foreseeable future.
The VESID Veterans Workgroup examined the process today's service members experience as they re-enter civilian life following discharge from the military. Typical military families experience a host of stresses and challenges in re-acclimating to civilian life. This transition is made more challenging when a wounded warrior and his or her family take on the additional burden of managing health considerations, rehabilitation, financial concerns and emotional stressors associated with establishing life as a civilian. A sampling of additional challenges wounded warriors and their families experience includes:
- Negotiating veterans administration acute medical treatment services;
- Working through the decision process of remaining in active duty or pursuing discharge;
- Processing VA disability benefits claims and accessing other financial supports;
- Negotiating related support systems to re-assess career options and leverage training and employment supports; and
- Managing family challenges and dynamics.
Upward of 26 percent of returning troops may have mental health conditions. The majority of diagnoses are post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression and generalized anxiety.
In addition, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has made traumatic brain injury (TBI) a major concern for service members. According to the VA, approximately 1,800 US troops have been maimed by penetrating head wounds and potentially hundreds of thousands more (at least 30 percent of troops engaged in active combat in Afghanistan and Iraq for four months or more) may have suffered a mild TBI as a result of IED blast waves. (Glasser, 2007; Hoge, 2007; Hoge 2008).
VESID Best Practices:
In State fiscal year 2008-09, VESID served 3,179 veterans throughout VESID’s 15 district offices. The origins of the nation's vocational rehabilitation service system stem from the demand for vocational rehabilitation service by World War I and World War II veterans. While today’s vocational rehabilitation system has evolved to serve primarily civilians, VESID recognizes and embraces its commitment to serve those who have served on our behalf.
VESID personnel have considerable experience in providing services to individuals who have experienced a TBI and/or are confronting mental health challenges. In the 2008-09 State fiscal year, VESID served over 1,300 individuals who have experienced some level of brain injury and over 19,700 individuals who experienced a range of mental health conditions including PTSD. In addition to their certified rehabilitation counselor credentials, many VESID counselors hold secondary certification in mental health counseling or related certification.
In NYC and Long Island, VESID District Offices are engaged in a best practice based on a strong partnership between senior VESID counseling staff and the VA's VR&E program serving OEF/OIF wounded warriors. The model builds on the relative strengths of both systems. VESID and VR&E counseling staff meet regularly to review cases and to identify services and supports VESID can contribute to the veteran’s career-oriented plan for employment. Typically these services include job placement or case management/follow up. VR&E processes an expedited referral for VESID services and VESID is reimbursed upon service delivery. VESID, in turn, will refer veterans who are eligible for VR&E services and have disconnected or otherwise failed to connect with VR&E services.
In the Capital District, VESID relies on its relationship with the Peter Young Housing Industries and Treatment program that extends as far west as Buffalo and as far south as Brooklyn to connect with veterans in recovery from substance abuse. Frontline treatment personnel orient veterans to the range of available VESID services, facilitate the application process and integrate training and/or employment experience into the therapeutic regime. The Peter Young Housing Industries and Treatment program is one of many critical partnerships VESID maintains with community-based rehabilitation training and treatment programs statewide.
In the Buffalo region, VESID counselors with military experience conduct a TBI support group that serves as a critical touchstone for veterans and their families, while simultaneously serving as a pathway to VESID and related services.
Cross systems Collaboration:
The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) program mirrors the VESID service delivery model with reliance on certified rehabilitation counselors to coordinate the counseling, planning and training matched to the interests and abilities of service-connected veterans. Like VESID, the VR&E program also offers services that connected veterans with independent living supports and services. While the VESID Veterans Workgroup has concluded that the VA appears to be managing service demands of OEF/OIF veterans, there is a benefit to staff meeting to review shared cases (similar to the NYC-Long Island model noted above). VESID will explore the possibility of adopting this model statewide. The following VESID services have been identified as a complement to VR&E: job development and employment services; case management and follow-up; and linkages to independent living services.
The VA’s Compensated Work Therapy Program (CWT) is another critical partner in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation services to New York's veterans. CWT is a supported employment program that assists veterans who are facing substantial barriers to work. CWT participants have access to supportive work environments and wraparound supports that allow them to test their ability to work. The scope of VA services available through CWT is limited and a sampling of VESID services that complement CWT programming includes: transportation, clothing allowance and child care; case management and follow-up; and linkages to independent living services and benefits counseling.
The VESID Workgroup recognized the importance of consistent outreach to the veteran community and the need for cross systems human resource development and trainings.
- VESID has been privileged to participate in numerous annual "Stand down" veteran events. Stand down is a military term that refers to the timeout a unit takes in the field to check in and support their fellow soldiers. This same philosophy is apparent at daylong stand down events where a staggering array of resources are distributed to veterans including hot meals, health care and dental screenings and surplus supplies. Veterans challenged by unemployment, substance abuse and/or homelessness are exposed to countywide community of service providers with words of encouragement and resources to match.
- VESID has partnered with the NYS DOL at regional Veteran Job Fairs. While these events target all veterans, they have proved to be an excellent opportunity for VESID’s integrated employment specialists to network with area employers. Invariably, a good number of veterans self identify as having a disability and welcome the opportunity to learn more about VESID services and/or SED higher education opportunity programs (e.g., Troops to Teachers, Yellow Ribbon Colleges, NYS Veteran’s Tuition Assistance Program, the Post 9/11 GI Bill and other campus-based veterans’ initiatives).
- In collaboration with the NYS DOL and the VA, VESID is developing a comprehensive veterans’ resource directory: "No Wrong Door for Those Who Have Served". This web-based employment and training resource directory features supports available through VESID, VR&E, CWT, DOL, Independent Living Centers and related supports.
The VESID network will continue to work diligently, collaborating with our partners, to meet the challenging needs of New York's veterans with disabilities as a component of VESID’s Designing Our Future initiatives.
The Board of Regents will continue to support VESID’s Designing our Future Initiative and the implementation of vocational rehabilitation services and interagency activities in response to the emerging demands of veterans with disabilities.
Timeline for Implementation
With Regents support, the described activities will continue to move forward.