Office of the Spokesperson
Following his visit to Camp Atterbury in Indiana on December 1, 2021, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian P. McKeon will meet with students at Indiana University in Bloomington on December 1 and 2 to underscore the U.S. government’s commitment to international education as a foreign policy priority, as recently reiterated by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona in a Joint Statement of Principles in Support of International Education, and how international education can prepare students for careers in foreign affairs, particularly with the U.S. Department of State.
Deputy Secretary McKeon hosted a careers roundtable with Indiana University students on December 1, highlighting the State Department’s commitment to recruiting diverse and talented candidates for a variety of career tracks in the foreign and civil service.
On December 2, Deputy Secretary McKeon will meet with a small group of local students who are fellows or alumni of State Department exchange programs through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, including the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, Critical Language Scholarship Program, and Fulbright Program. This discussion will focus on how international education furthers U.S. foreign policy goals and how State Department exchange alumni can use the international skills and perspectives they gain abroad to pursue careers in foreign affairs, in particular with the U.S. Department of State. Deputy Secretary McKeon’s participation in these events at Indiana University will further the Department’s continued efforts to engage with diverse students on U.S foreign policy priorities and careers with the State Department.
For more information, contact PAPressDuty@state.gov.
- Substance Use Disorder: Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for AdultsBy Sam NewsAugust 6, 2020Substance use disorders (SUD)—the recurrent use of alcohol or illicit drugs causing significant impairment—affected about 19.3 million adults in the United States in 2018, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. State Medicaid programs have the option to cover services offered by peer providers—individuals who use their own lived experience recovering from SUD to support others in recovery. GAO's review of Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission data found that, in 2018, 37 states covered peer support services for adults with SUDs in their Medicaid programs. Medicaid Coverage of Peer Support Services for Adults with Substance Use Disorders, 2018 Officials from the three states GAO reviewed—Colorado, Missouri, and Oregon—reported that their Medicaid programs offered peer support services as a complement, rather than as an alternative, to clinical treatment for SUD. Missouri officials said that peer providers did not maintain separate caseloads and were part of treatment teams, working in conjunction with doctors and other clinical staff. Similarly, officials in Colorado and Oregon said peer support services were only offered as part of a treatment plan. State officials reported that peer support services could be offered as an alternative to clinical treatment outside of Medicaid using state or grant funding. SUD treatment can help individuals reduce or stop substance use and improve their quality of life. In 2007, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recognized that peer providers could be an important component of effective SUD treatment, and provided guidance to states on how to cover peer support services in their Medicaid programs. However, states have flexibility in how they design and implement their Medicaid programs, and coverage for peer support services is an optional benefit. The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act included a provision for GAO to report on peer support services under Medicaid. This report describes, among other objectives, the extent to which state Medicaid programs covered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs nationwide, and how selected state Medicaid programs offered peer support services for adult beneficiaries with SUDs. GAO obtained state-by-state data from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission on 2018 Medicaid coverage of peer support services. GAO also reviewed information and interviewed officials from a nongeneralizable sample of three states, which GAO selected for a number of reasons, including to obtain variation in delivery systems used. The Department of Health and Human Services provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Export-Import Bank: Status of End-Use Monitoring of Dual-Use Exports as of August 2021By Sam NewsSeptember 1, 2021Why GAO Did This Study EXIM's mission is to support the export of U.S. goods and services overseas through loans, loan guarantees, and insurance, thereby supporting U.S. jobs. In 1994, Congress passed legislation authorizing EXIM to facilitate the financing of U.S. exports of defense articles and services with both commercial and military applications, provided that the bank determines these items are nonlethal and primarily meant for civilian end use. Included in the same act was a provision for GAO, in conjunction with EXIM, to report annually on the end uses of dual-use exports financed by EXIM during the second preceding fiscal year. This report (1) examines the status of EXIM's monitoring of dual-use exports that it continued to finance in fiscal year 2019, as of August 2021; and (2) identifies any new dual-use exports that EXIM financed in fiscal year 2020. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed EXIM documentation and data on dual-use exports and interviewed EXIM officials. What GAO Found As of August 2021, the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) was monitoring the end use of a single transaction that it continued to finance in fiscal year 2019, as summarized below: Two satellites for the government of Mexico. A fixed service satellite was launched in December 2012 and became operational in February 2013, and a mobile service satellite was launched in October 2015 and became operational in December 2015. For 2021, EXIM received all documents from the government of Mexico on time and subsequently determined that Mexico was in compliance with the bank's dual-use policy. EXIM did not finance any new exports under its dual-use authority in fiscal year 2020, according to EXIM authorization data and EXIM officials. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
- Public Health: Federal Programs Provide Screening and Treatment for Breast and Cervical CancerBy Sam NewsNovember 30, 2020The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) operates the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (the Early Detection Program) to provide cancer screening and diagnostic services to people who are low-income and uninsured or underinsured. For those screened under the program who require treatment, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000 (the Treatment Act) allows states to extend Medicaid eligibility to individuals not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. GAO analysis of CDC data show that the Early Detection Program screened 296,225 people in 2018, a decrease from 550,390 in 2011 (about 46 percent). The largest decrease occurred from 2013 to 2014 (see figure). According to a CDC-funded study, the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program decreased from 2011 through 2017, by about 48 percent for breast cancer and about 49 percent for cervical cancer. CDC officials attributed these declines in screening and eligibility, in part, to improved access to screening under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). For example, PPACA required health plans to cover certain women's preventive health care with no cost sharing. Number of People Screened by CDC's Early Detection Program, 2011-2018 GAO analysis of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) data found that, in 2019, 43,549 people were enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act to receive treatment for breast or cervical cancer, a decrease from 50,219 in 2016 (13.3 percent). Thirty-seven states experienced a decrease in Medicaid enrollment under the Treatment Act during this time period, 13 states experienced an increase, and one state had no change. CMS officials noted that Medicaid expansion to adults with incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level under PPACA (the new adult group) is a key factor that contributed to these enrollment trends. CMS officials said that, in Medicaid expansion states, there were some people who previously would have enrolled in Medicaid based on eligibility under the Treatment Act who instead became eligible for Medicaid in the new adult group. The CMS data show that total enrollment under the Treatment Act in Medicaid expansion states decreased by 25.6 percent from 2016 to 2019. In contrast, total enrollment under the Treatment Act in non-expansion states increased by about 1 percent during this time period. According to the CDC, tens of thousands of people die each year from breast or cervical cancer. Early screening and detection, followed by prompt treatment, can improve outcomes and, ultimately, save lives. Federal programs, like CDC's Early Detection Program, are intended to improve access to these services. GAO was asked to examine the implementation of the Early Detection Program and the states' use of Medicaid under the Treatment Act. This report provides information on the number of people who were 1) screened through the Early Detection Program and 2) enrolled in Medicaid under the Treatment Act. GAO analyzed CDC data on the number of people screened by the Early Detection Program from calendar years 2011 through 2018—the most recent available. GAO also analyzed CMS Medicaid enrollment data from 2016 through 2019—the most recent available. Additionally, GAO reviewed a 2020 study funded by CDC that examines the number of people eligible for the Early Detection Program from 2011 through 2017. Finally, GAO interviewed CDC and CMS officials and reviewed relevant CDC and CMS documents. For more information, contact John E. Dicken, (202) 512-7114, firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Tax Preparer Sentenced in COVID-19 Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsNovember 17, 2021A South Florida tax preparer was sentenced today to two years in prison for perpetrating a scheme to fraudulently obtain over 100 COVID-19 relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).[Read More…]
- COVID-19: VA Should Assess Its Oversight of Infection Prevention and Control in Community Living CentersBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2021What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took steps—such as issuing guidance and trainings—to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Community Living Centers (CLC), which are VA-owned and -operated nursing homes. This guidance focused on, for example, limiting CLC entry and testing residents and staff for COVID-19, while the trainings were intended to prepare staff for, among other things, a surge in cases. However, the agency conducted limited oversight of infection prevention and control in these facilities during the first year of the pandemic, from March 2020 through February 2021. In particular, the agency suspended annual in-person inspections of CLCs before resuming them virtually in February 2021. The agency also required that CLCs conduct a one-time self-assessment of their infection prevention and control practices but did not review the results in a timely manner to make more immediate improvements. VA officials acknowledged these shortcomings as the agency responded in real time to the rapidly evolving pandemic. As VA has described this time as a “learning period,” it could benefit from assessing its decisions and actions related to oversight of infection prevention and control during the pandemic to identify any lessons learned. Such an assessment would align with VA's plans to assess and report on the agency's overall response to the pandemic as well as its strategic goal to promote continuous quality improvement in CLCs. Results from such an assessment—which could look at both successes and missed opportunities—could help VA better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks in CLCs. Why GAO Did This Study Close to 8,000 veterans per day received nursing home care provided by VA in CLCs in fiscal year 2020. COVID-19 has posed significant risks to nursing home residents and staff, as residents are often in frail health, and residents and staff have close daily contact with each other. The CARES Act includes a provision that GAO monitor the federal response to the pandemic. This report describes, among other objectives, guidance and training VA has issued to help CLCs respond to the pandemic and examines VA's oversight of infection prevention and control in CLCs during the pandemic. GAO analyzed documents, including guidance, training-related materials, and CLC self-assessments of their infection prevention and control practices. GAO also interviewed VA officials and CLC staff, the latter from five facilities selected based on factors such as having been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies prior to the pandemic.[Read More…]
- The Art-tivist Movement in Cuba: One Year and No DialogueBy Sam NewsNovember 27, 2021
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- Missile Defense: Opportunity to Refocus on Strengthening Acquisition ManagementBy Sam NewsAugust 24, 2021What GAO FoundThe Department of Defense's (DOD) Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has made some recent progress gaining important knowledge for its Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) by successfully conducting several important tests. In addition, the agency made substantial improvements to the clarity of its cost and schedule baselines since first reporting them in 2010, and declared the first major deployment of U.S. missile defense in Europe operational in December 2011. MDA also took steps to reduce acquisition risk by decreasing the overlap between technology and product development for two of its programs.MDA faces considerable challenges in executing acquisition programs; strengthening accountability; assessing alternatives before making new investment commitments; developing and deploying U.S. missile defense in Europe and using modeling and simulations to understand capabilities and limitations of the BMDS. The appointment of a new director for MDA provides an opportunity to address these challenges. More specifically:Interceptor production for three of MDA's systems has been significantly disrupted during the past few years due to high-risk acquisition strategies which have resulted in delaying planned deliveries to the warfighter, raising costs, and disrupting the industrial base. Further, MDA continues to follow high-risk acquisition strategies for other programs. For example, its Targets and Countermeasures program is adding risk to an upcoming complex, costly operational flight test involving multiple MDA systems because it plans to use unproven targets.While MDA made substantial improvements to the clarity of its reported cost and schedule baselines, MDA's estimates are not comprehensive because they do not include costs from military services in reported life-cycle costs for its programs. Instability due to MDA's frequent adjustments to its acquisition baselines makes assessing progress over time using these baselines extremely difficult and, in many cases, impossible.While MDA has conducted some analyses that consider alternatives in selecting which acquisitions to pursue, it did not conduct robust analyses of alternatives for two of its new programs, both of which were recently proposed for cancellation.During the past several years, MDA has been responding to a mandate from the President to develop and deploy new missile defense systems in Europe for the defense of Europe and the United States. GAO's work continues to find that a key challenge facing DOD is to keep individual system acquisitions synchronized with the planned deployment time frames.MDA has also struggled for years to develop the tools--the models and simulations--to understand the capabilities and limitations of the individual systems before they are deployed. While MDA recently committed to a new approach that could enable them to credibly model individual programs and system-level BMDS performance, warfighters will not benefit from this effort until after the first two of the currently planned three phases for U.S. missile defense in Europe have been deployed in 2011 and 2015 respectively.Why GAO Did This StudyIn order to meet its mission, MDA is developing a highly complex group of systems comprised of land-, sea-, and space-based sensors to track missiles, as well as ballistic missile interceptors and a battle management system. These systems can be integrated in different ways to provide protection in various regions of the world. Since its initiation in 2002, MDA has been given a significant amount of flexibility in executing the development and fielding of the ballistic missile defense system. This statement addresses recent MDA progress and the challenges it faces with its acquisition management. It is based on GAO's April 2013 report and reports on missile defense issued from September 2008 through July 2012.[Read More…]
- Congratulations to Bolivia’s President-Elect Luis ArceBy Sam NewsOctober 21, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Justice Department Statement on Law Enforcement Assistance to the Haitian GovernmentBy Sam NewsJuly 12, 2021The U.S. Department of Justice today released the following statement from spokesman Anthony Coley on department efforts to provide law enforcement assistance to the people and Government of Haiti:[Read More…]
- Republic of the Congo National DayBy Sam NewsAugust 15, 2021
- Sentencing of Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists for Unlawful AssemblyBy Sam NewsApril 16, 2021
- Addressing Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication: Progress in Enhancing Government Effectiveness and Achieving Hundreds of Billions of Dollars in Financial BenefitsBy Sam NewsSeptember 28, 2021What GAO Found Congress and executive branch agencies have made significant progress in addressing many of the 1,200 actions that GAO identified from 2011 to 2021 to reduce costs, increase revenues, and improve agencies’ operating effectiveness, although work remains to fully address them. As shown in the figure below, these efforts have resulted in approximately $515 billion in financial benefits, an increase of $85 billion from GAO’s 2020 annual report. These are rough estimates based on a variety of sources that considered different time periods and used different data sources, assumptions, and methodologies. Total Reported Financial Benefits of $515 Billion, as of 2021 To achieve these benefits, as of August 2021, Congress and executive branch agencies have fully addressed 666 (56 percent) of the 1,200 actions GAO identified from 2011 to 2021 and partially addressed 207 (17 percent). Examples of actions taken that led to significant financial benefits include: Congress increased the passenger security fee from a prior boarding payment structure to a flat fee, resulting in increased revenues of about $12.9 billion over a 10-year period beginning in 2014 through 2023. The Department of Health and Human Services changed its spending limit determinations for Medicaid demonstrations, resulting in federal savings of approximately $120.8 billion from 2016 through 2020, with tens of billions of additional savings to potentially accrue in the future. Further steps are needed to fully address the actions GAO identified from 2011 to 2021. While GAO is no longer tracking 93 actions due to changing circumstances, GAO estimates that fully addressing the remaining 441 open actions could result in savings of tens of billions of dollars and improved government services, among other benefits. For example: The Department of Energy may be able to reduce certain risks by adopting alternative approaches to treating a portion of its low-activity radioactive waste, saving tens of billions of dollars. Enhanced Internal Revenue Service enforcement and service capabilities can help reduce the gap between taxes owed and paid by collecting billions in tax revenue and facilitating voluntary compliance. The Department of Veterans Affairs could manage fragmentation and improve access to long-term care for veterans by implementing a more consistent approach to this care. Why GAO Did This Study The federal government continues to respond to and recover from significant public health and economic challenges battling the COVID-19 pandemic. While the size and scope of these efforts demand strong accountability and continued agility, opportunities also exist for achieving billions of dollars in financial savings and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a wide range of federal programs in other areas. GAO has responded with annual reports to a statutory provision directing it to identify and report on federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives—either within departments or government-wide. These entities and initiatives have duplicative, overlapping, or fragmented goals or activities, as well as additional opportunities to achieve cost savings or enhance revenue collection. This report discusses the progress Congress and executive branch agencies have made in addressing actions GAO identified in its 2011 to 2021 reports. Additionally, the report provides examples of open actions where further steps by Congress and executive branch agencies could yield significant financial and non-financial benefits. For more information, contact Jessica Lucas-Judy at (202)512-6806 or email@example.com, or Michelle Sager at (202)512-6806 or firstname.lastname@example.org..[Read More…]
- Nine Charged with $24 Million COVID-Relief Fraud SchemeBy Sam NewsAugust 6, 2020The owner of a Florida talent management company and four others were charged in complaints unsealed yesterday for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]
- COVID-19 Contracting: Observations on Contractor Paid Leave Reimbursement Guidance and UseBy Sam NewsSeptember 3, 2020Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act generally authorizes agencies at their discretion to reimburse a contractor for the cost of paid leave incurred during the pandemic so that it can maintain its workforce in a ready state. Between March 2020—when the CARES Act was enacted—and early July 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and each of the seven other agencies in GAO's review issued guidance to implement section 3610. While largely similar, GAO's work identified some differences across these guidance documents, including the extent to which the rates used to calculate these reimbursements could include profit or fees. OMB issued additional guidance on July 14, 2020, that addressed these differences and clarified how agencies should handle each situation. For example, OMB noted that profit or fees should generally not be reimbursed but provided options for addressing situations in which removing profit or fees would be burdensome. OMB advised agencies to report the amount reimbursed using section 3610 authority via contract modifications to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). After excluding reported obligations identified by agency officials as not associated with section 3610 authority, the reported data indicated that agencies made relatively little use of the authority through July 2020 (see figure). However, the Department of Energy (DOE) reimbursed contractors for almost $550 million in paid leave costs, stating it used existing obligations rather than adding funding via a contract modification. As a result, these amounts were not reported to FPDS-NG as section 3610 reimbursements. Obligations Using Section 3610 Authority Reported to the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation by Selected Agencies from January 31 to July 20, 2020 Agency officials and industry representatives GAO interviewed identified several factors that limited section 3610 obligations to date, including the absence of dedicated funding. With the exceptions of the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOE, agency officials GAO met with either did not expect a large amount or were uncertain about the level of future requests for section 3610 reimbursements. DOD officials stated that they expected requests amounting to billions of dollars. In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides over $2 trillion in emergency assistance and healthcare response for individuals, families, and businesses affected by COVID-19. The CARES Act also includes a provision for GAO to review federal contracting pursuant to authorities provided in the Act. This report addresses the implementation of section 3610 of the CARES Act, which authorizes federal agencies to reimburse contractors for paid leave related to the COVID-19 pandemic through September 30, 2020. This report describes (1) the extent to which section 3610 implementation guidance provided by selected federal agencies and OMB differs and (2) the extent to which selected federal agencies reported use of section 3610 authority through July 20, 2020. GAO reviewed relevant guidance issued by OMB and the seven federal agencies with contract obligations greater than $10 billion in fiscal year 2019; interviewed cognizant officials from OMB and each agency; and reviewed comments provided by and spoke with representatives from four industry associations. GAO also analyzed public procurement data reported by selected agencies to FPDS-NG through July 20, 2020 on the use of section 3610 authority. GAO will continue to assess how agencies are implementing section 3610 authority as part of a series of planned reports regarding the federal response to COVID-19. For more information, contact Timothy J. DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or email@example.com.[Read More…]
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- Maryland Man Sentenced to Prison for Intentionally Damaging the Computers of His Former EmployerBy Sam NewsSeptember 24, 2020A Maryland man was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today to 12 months and one day in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for illegally accessing and damaging the computer network of his former employer. Judge Blake also entered an order requiring Stafford to pay restitution in the amount of $193,258.10 to his former employer.[Read More…]
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- Chronic Health Conditions: Federal Strategy Needed to Coordinate Diet-Related EffortsBy Sam NewsSeptember 16, 2021What GAO Found According to the latest federal data available, selected chronic health conditions linked to diet are prevalent, deadly, and costly. These diet-related conditions include cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke), cancer, diabetes, and obesity. For example, 2018 federal data show: Prevalence. Forty-two percent of adults had obesity—or approximately 100 million U.S. adults. Mortality. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes accounted for half of all annual deaths in the U.S. (about 1.5 million deaths). People living in southern states, men, and Black Americans had disproportionately higher mortality rates than those living in other regions, women, and other races. Cost. Government spending, including Medicare and Medicaid, to treat cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes accounted for 54 percent of the $383.6 billion in health care spending to treat these conditions. The increase in certain diet-related conditions over time indicates further potential threats to Americans' health. For example, the prevalence of obesity among adults was 19 percent higher in 2018 than in 2009. GAO identified 200 federal efforts related to diet—fragmented across 21 agencies—for reducing Americans' risk of chronic health conditions. The efforts fall into four categories (see table). Federal Agencies' Efforts to Address Diet as a Factor of Chronic Health Conditions Categories Number of efforts Examples of activities Total efforts 200 Research 119 Collect and monitor data, conduct or fund studies, review research to develop guidelines on healthy eating Education and clinical services 72 Inform program beneficiaries, counsel health care patients, inform the public with mass communication Food assistance and access 27 Provide food or assistance in purchasing food, improve community access to healthy food Regulatory action 6 Issue requirements or recommendations for food producers, manufacturers, and retailers Source: GAO analysis of agency information. | GAO-21-593 Note: Effort numbers do not add up to 200 because some efforts fall into multiple categories. Agencies have taken some actions to coordinate, such as by establishing interagency groups. However, they have not effectively managed fragmentation of diet-related efforts or the potential for overlap and duplication. Such fragmentation has impacted the agencies' ability to achieve certain outcomes. For example, according to agency officials and nonfederal stakeholders, agencies have not fully addressed important gaps in scientific knowledge where research is sparse, including on healthy diets for infants and young children. A federal strategy for diet-related efforts could provide sustained leadership and result in improved, cost-effective outcomes for reducing Americans' risk of diet-related chronic health conditions. Why GAO Did This Study Many chronic health conditions are preventable, yet they are leading causes of death and disability in the United States. In addition, people with certain chronic health conditions are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than people without them. Poor diet is one prominent risk factor for chronic health conditions, alongside tobacco use, physical inactivity, and others. Numerous federal agencies have a role in addressing diet and its link to chronic health conditions. GAO was asked to review diet-related chronic health conditions and federal efforts to address them. This report examines (1) federal data on prevalence, mortality, and costs of selected diet-related chronic health conditions; (2) federal diet-related efforts to reduce Americans' risk of chronic health conditions; and (3) the extent to which federal agencies have coordinated their efforts. GAO selected conditions with established scientific links to diet. GAO then analyzed federal data on prevalence, mortality, and health care spending; reviewed agency documents; interviewed officials from 21 federal agencies with a role in diet, as well as nonfederal stakeholders; and compared agency actions with selected leading practices for collaboration, which GAO has identified in prior work.[Read More…]
- Vocational Rehabilitation: More VA and DOD Collaboration Needed to Expedite Services for Seriously Injured ServicemembersBy Sam NewsAugust 25, 2021More than 10,000 U.S. military servicemembers, including National Guard and Reserve members, have been injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those with serious injuries are likely to be discharged from the military and return to civilian life with disabilities. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) services to help these injured servicemembers in their transition to civilian employment. GAO has noted that early intervention--the provision of rehabilitation services as soon as possible after the onset of a disability--is a practice that significantly facilitates the return to work. GAO examined how VA expedites VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers and the challenges VA faces in its efforts to do so.VA has taken steps to expedite vocational rehabilitation and employment services for servicemembers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with serious injuries. The agency has instructed its regional offices to make seriously injured servicemembers a high priority for all VA assistance, including VR&E services, and has asked DOD to provide data that would help VA identify and monitor this population. It has also deployed additional staff to five major Army military treatment facilities where the majority of the seriously injured are treated. Pending an agreement with DOD for sharing data, VA has relied on its regional offices to learn who the seriously injured are and where they are located. We found that the regional offices we reviewed had developed information that varied in completeness and reliability. We also found that VA does not have a policy for maintaining contact with those with serious injuries who may later be ready for VR&E services but did not initially apply for VR&E. Nevertheless, some regional offices did attempt to maintain contact while other regional offices did not. VA faces significant challenges in expediting VR&E services to seriously injured servicemembers. These include: the inherent challenge that individual differences and uncertainties in the recovery process make it difficult to determine when a servicemember will be ready to consider VR&E services; DOD's concerns that VA's outreach, including early intervention with VR&E, could work at cross purposes to military retention goals for servicemembers whose discharge from military service is not yet certain; and the lack of access to data from DOD that would allow VA to readily know which servicemembers are seriously injured and where they are located. VA and DOD generally concurred with our findings and recommendations.[Read More…]