Time is running out to evaluate whether U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials should continue a promising pilot program designed to help veterans get high-tech skills, a government watchdog said this week.
The Veterans Employment Through Technology Education Courses program launched in 2019 as a five-year pilot. Originally planned as a $15 million effort, lawmakers added an additional $110 million to the program in recent years because of increased demand.
VET TEC is open to veterans with some GI Bill eligibility left who are looking for training in high-tech fields such as computer programming and information science. Over the last three years, VA officials have said nearly 7,000 veterans have enrolled in the program, with about two-thirds finding jobs after completion.
A Government Accountability Office study released this week found that those outcomes are unclear, since VA uses different methods to calculate employment than other federal standards. By that measure, only about 46% of participants found jobs.
“As a result, VA lacks sufficient information to compare VET TEC to other programs or to assess the effectiveness of the program at getting veterans into jobs,” the report states.
GAO officials have lamented shortcomings in the department’s VET TEC data collection in the past, including a similar report last spring.
The report said those issues need to be resolved quickly to determine whether Congress and VA should push to make the pilot program permanent. The five-year timeline for VET TEC is set to expire in 2024.
The GAO findings note multiple positive aspects of the program, including a high completion rate (less than 17% of enrollees have failed to complete their work) and high diversity rates among participants (63% were from non-white minority groups, and 84% had a service-connected disability).
Without better data on veterans employment rates, “assessing and evaluating VET TEC by the end of the pilot will likely be difficult for VA,” the report said.
In response to the GAO report, VA officials said they agree in principle with the report’s goals but are evaluating the best path forward on changes. They expect to release their own findings on program outcomes by the end of December.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are pushing to make the program permanent, even as some of those outcome questions remain unclear. VA officials in the past have said they would be supportive of the idea, given the results they have seen so far.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.