October 28, 2005
Contact: Jeff Schrade (202)224-9093

(Washington, DC) With a dramatic rise in the number of veterans deemed unemployable, the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs took a look Thursday at what is driving the increase, and what steps can be taken to help those that can still work get the help they need.

At the hearing the Government Accountability Office reported that from fiscal years 1999 to 2004, the number of veterans receiving unemployability benefits more than doubled, from 95,000 to 197,000. There are now over 221,000 veterans who have been deemed unemployable by the VA.

(See pictures from the hearing by clicking on: 2005 - October 27 - Employability hearing.  To watch the hearing on-line, Click Here to View Hearing.) 

"With today's modern technologies, individuals with disabilities have more opportunities than ever before to become productive members of society," said Chairman Larry Craig. "While the unemployability benefit may certainly be appropriate for some, the presumption must be that every individual with disabilities can overcome barriers to employment. A positive, employment-oriented attitude towards veterans with disabilities must be VA's focus, and the eligibility assessment for IU should reflect that attitude."

Individual Unemployability, or IU, is a benefit paid to veterans with disabilities rated between 60-90 percent disabling and is granted when the veteran's individual circumstances suggest that gainful employment is unlikely because of the disability.

"The IU benefit should be viewed as the benefit of last resort," Craig said. "I reject the notion, put forth by some at the hearing, that veterans with disabilities can't work, that we shouldn't waste resources even making the effort to try, and that looking for work is somehow demeaning. We should provide people with every opportunity for financial growth."

Cynthia Bascetta, Director of the GAO's Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues department told the committee that the VA could learn more from the private sector when dealing with people who have been deemed unemployable.

"Incorporating return-to-work practices could help VA modernize its disability program to enable veterans to realize their full productive potential without jeopardizing the availability of benefits for people who cannot work," Bascetta said.


That is just what the Chairman said he wants.

"I see a generation of people today, coming home, with substantial impairments, but with high hopes that they're going to go back to productive lives. We ought to be doing everything we can to optimize those opportunities," Craig said.