Over the summer, I finally had a chance to meet with Director Ruth Fanning. Director Fanning is the head of one of the lesser-understood parts of the Department of Veterans Affairs called Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment.
At the New Orleans Veteran-Owned Small Business Expo, we finally had an opportunity to meet. I was flattered that she knew who I was and had read my blog. Director Fanning was kind enough to compliment my blog, DisabledVeterans.ORG, despite some of the more derogatory comments I have made about her and Chapter 31. In 2010, I helped CBS Evening News with Katie Couric investigate that same program. Needless to say, her compliments were unexpected.
During the meeting, Director Fanning shared with me some of the new directions Voc Rehab will be taking. She also told me she would be a direct resource for me moving forward.
What Voc Rehab is DoingHere is what you can expect if you are in Voc Rehab, according to Director Fanning:
- Disabled veterans will more readily get extended educational benefits in order to better compete in the respective area of training they chose
- A new program, VetSEA, will help veteran entrepreneurs develop their businesses with the help of Voc Rehab
- Education, employment and entrepreneurship is the new direction for veteran training
- Bad counselors are being rooted out of the program
Should You Hold Your Breath?First, I constantly get emails from veterans who are unable to gain access to additional training after completing their undergrad degrees. They go into the labor market with little to no help finding work. And then, when they ask for more training, Voc Rehab Counselors tell them to come back in 6 months of no success.
Second, the VetSEA program is being spearheaded by a government contractor called Halfaker & Associates. This appears to be a typical West Point led enterprise, so I’m reluctant to hold my breath that it will be a success. However, if it works, disabled veterans will be better off.
Third, Chief of Staff of the DVA, John Gingrich, told me the VA is actively pursuing the training goal of Entrepreneurship. I think this is great, so long as average Joe veteran business owners are allowed to compete with the entrenched West Point types. The “who you know – who you blow” idea of DC connections relating to awarding government contracts needs to go away before we average Joe veterans will succeed in the arena of government contracting.
Fourth, bad counselors are in fact being rooted out of the program. Voc Rehab has received a lot of pressure over the years about their treatment of veterans. Hopefully, with the efforts of Director Fanning and team, this will change.
What This Means for Disabled VeteransIn summary, it appears that the VA may finally be on the right track. Director Fanning wants to be involved. I spoke with her about the Voc Rehab Survival Guide I wrote a while back. She told me she would be more than willing to take a look at it – perhaps even offer me some tips on making it even better. I’ve already had it edited by Voc Rehab Counseling Psychologists. Getting “the boss” to look it over would be outstanding. In my mind, a $9 solution is a lot cheaper than paying Halfaker and Friends millions to improve the same program.
The four areas Voc Rehab is working on should really help veterans with accessing the program. Of course, it still appears to be under utilized and under reported. That was one comment of the Director. Only 10 percent of entitled veterans ever utilize Chapter 31 Voc Rehab. I personally blame the Department for its underutilization, but that’s my take.
So, on the “new face” of Voc Rehab, don’t hold your breath but be hopeful. It’s only inevitable that someone will actually improve the program. Let’s hope that person is none other than Director Fanning, herself.