The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun hiring more job counselors to reduce caseloads in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program for disabled veterans.
The aim of the hiring effort is to get the counselor-to-caseload ratio down to one counselor for every 125 veterans seeking employment, the VA said in a release Wednesday.
According to the numbers provided by the VA in its release, the current ratio is roughly 1 counselor to 148 veteran job-seekers.
"The VR&E program is much more than a benefits program," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "It's a vital support network, where VA's expert counselors work closely with veterans on their personalized vocational rehabilitation goals."
Funding from Congress allowed the VA "to expand our team of counselors who are on the ground across the country working tirelessly for veterans, and we appreciate their support," he added.
Currently, there are about 940 counselors working across VA's 56 regional offices and other satellite offices to advise veterans with service-connected disabilities on transitions to the civilian workforce, the VA said.
The plan is to hire an additional 172 vocational rehabilitation counselors (VRCs) to bring caseloads down to more manageable levels "and [provide] the resources needed to ensure veterans are receiving thorough, quality services," the VA said.
About 900 of the VRCs will work out of regional and satellite offices; others will work out of military installations and college campuses.
The VA estimates that more than 56,000 veterans have either completed a rehabilitation plan, found jobs or "achieved a greater independence in living through VR&E assistance" since 2014.
The announcement of the job counselor expansion comes amid frequent charges by the American Federation of Government Employees and congressional Democrats of widespread staff shortages at the VA's more than 1,200 facilities.
The AFGE, representing more than 230,000 VA employees, has cited figures from former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin that there are more than 33,000 unfilled positions at the VA.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.