Accenture compiled recommendations for incoming VA appointees and committee members on addressing challenges Veterans face as a result of COVID-19.
To rebound quickly from rising Veteran unemployment, we recommend expanding and amplifying innovative VA benefits.
To prepare for a growing wave of online learning, we recommend Congress change housing stipend rules to accommodate distance learning as a norm.
With the next wave of aging Veteran population entering long-term facilities, we recommend VA consider capital investments in State Veterans Homes.
As COVID-19 continues to change the way the world lives, works, and learns, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is at the forefront of addressing pressing issues for Veterans and their families. Since March 2020, VA has proactively responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure Veterans continue to have access to the benefits and care they earned. This includes critical efforts like passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and other legislation to protect health care and GI Bill benefits, expanding telehealth services, and using innovative approaches to secure and produce personal protective equipment (PPE). As new VA appointees and committee members take the helm and seek to improve outcomes for Veterans, they must continue to address the unique challenges Veterans are facing as a result of COVID-19.
Accenture is committed to being a partner in addressing these challenges. To better understand the needs of Veterans during this time, Accenture has engaged with stakeholders across the Veteran ecosystem, including Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), federal agencies, private sector organizations, higher education, technology leaders, and Veterans and their families. Through focus groups, surveys, social listening studies, and conversations with those who share the mission of improving Veterans’ lives, we’ve compiled a list of key actions VA appointees and committee members can take. The below outlines recommendations across three priority areas: (1) transitioning service members (2) education and (3) health care.
Transitioning service members
Veteran unemployment is at 5.2% compared to 3.3% in February 2020.i To rebound quickly – and prevent unemployment for transitioning service members – we recommend amplifying and expanding innovative VA benefits.
VA has the opportunity to further promote its reskilling programs to prepare Veterans for civilian careers. The Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program, which prepares Veterans with the skills they need to enter the high-tech workforce, offers an excellent example. With program eligibility recently expanded to include service members within 180 days of separation, and allocated annual funding raised from $15M to $45M due to high demand, it is important to make transitioning service members and Veterans aware of this opportunity. The high demand for this program is no surprise. A recent social listening study that Accenture and VA conducted showed that 86% of employment-related conversations among the online military-connected community focused on reskilling and preparing for future jobsii. In the case of VET TEC, VA can make the most of the program through (1) expanding the new VET TEC Employer Consortium to include more small and midsized companies, which don’t tend to hire Veterans at the same rate as larger companiesiii (2) expanding regional training providers to reach additional cities with high-tech jobs, and (3) continuing to promote VET TEC during the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) so service members are aware of alternative options to a four-year degree, and can make the educational choice that is right for them. While service members exit the military with a unique set of transferrable skills, the ever-changing digital economy requires lifelong learning. By amplifying and expanding existing benefits programs, VA can help meet those needs and set Veterans up for meaningful civilian careers.
While service members exit the military with a unique set of transferrable skills, the evolving digital economy requires lifelong learning. By expanding existing benefits programs, VA can help set Veterans up for meaningful civilian careers.
Out of nearly 3,000 colleges across the country, 40% re-opened for spring semester primarily online while only 2% were fully in person as of January 2021iv. This high rate of online courses not only demonstrates the ability for students to adapt to new modes of learning but also makes way of a subset of the population that will continue to opt for online learning after COVID-19. To prepare for this wave of online learning, we recommend Congress consider changing Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) rules to accommodate distance learning as a norm.
According to Accenture Higher Education research, 33% of enrollment in higher education pre-COVID-19 was online or hybrid. Said another way – education was already shifting towards virtual, with or without the nudge from the pandemic. Proclivity for virtual classrooms is especially true for non-traditional students, who – without more flexible modalities of education – lose access to education as they strive to balance the competing demands of work, family, and school. As Veterans and their spouse beneficiaries tend to be non-traditional students, support for online learning would have a direct impact for them. For example, prior to COVID-19, GI Bill students were paid MHA for online courses at half the national average for MHA. Since COVID-19, legislation has been passed to pay the in-person rate for any courses that were converted from in-person to online due to COVID-19, through December 2021. If this rule was extended to all online courses, even once we claim victory over the COVID-19 pandemic, it would help meet the growing demand for online education. This shift towards online learning has created uncertainty and complexity for Veterans around both housing payments and program eligibilityv. As participation in non-traditional programs, such as Coursera, increases, VA has the opportunity consider putting these programs through the process of becoming GI Bill-approved. Through aggressive advocacy with education institutions and industry to reinforce the benefits of non-traditional programs and the approval of these programs for GI Bill funding, VA can be proactive in making the next generation of education opportunities available to Veterans who, paired with skills gained in the military, are uniquely positioned to succeed through these types of programs.
Nearly 5.5M Vietnam-era Veterans are at or approaching retirement agevi. With the next wave of aging Veteran population entering long-term facilities, we recommend that Congress and VA consider capital investments in State Veterans Homes to better prepare for future outbreaks and provide innovative modes of care delivery that address the social determinants of health.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 hit elderly populations particularly hard. In addition to increased health risks, COVID-19 demonstrated that State Veterans Homes were especially ill-prepared to react to a health crisis, attributed to limited oversight, public health reporting, and PPEvii. As part of budget considerations, VA could consider making capital investments geared at addressing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-identified deficiencies, enabling telehealth visits, and addressing the social determinants of health.* While these homes are run by each respective state, increased oversight and investment would create conditions to better prepare for future outbreaks. Capitalizing off the blended care model VA implemented at the onset of COVID-19, VA can extend the same approach employed at VA hospitals to State VA Homes. For example, VA’s partnerships with both Verizon and AT&T to provide a 5G network to hospitals represent a benchmark for future partnerships, and harness a wealth of data that can inform improved care and reporting. Additionally, in 2020, VA facilitated more than 5.6M telehealth experiences, reaching 79% more Veterans through virtual care than in 2019 viii. If VA extended support for State VA Homes to benefit from the same technologies, telehealth visits could help reduce feelings of isolation among Veterans, addressing both medical care and mental care. Not only does this improve outcomes for Veterans by addressing the individual environmental conditions that affect health risks and outcomes, it empowers Veterans to play a more active role in their own care.
As the Administration takes steps to build back better, Veterans play a key role in contributing to the economy. emphasized through the GI Bill, entrepreneurship, and other means. Research shows that just a 1% increase in GI Bill usage yields immediate national outcomes, including a $2.82B increase in GDP and 26K people lifted out of poverty. VA has an opportunity not only to aid our country’s economic recovery from this pandemic, but to rebuild it with improved services. Through bold action, innovative ideas, and fierce advocacy, the incoming VA appointees and committee members can take steps to boost economic impact and put Veterans at the forefront of solutions – driving outcomes for Veterans and their families, and our country as a whole.
Economic impact of the GI Bill
The GI Bill has a transformative impact. Research shows that just a 1% increase in GI Bill usage yields immediate national outcomes, including: