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Revamped program aids separating service members

By Donna Miles | American Forces Press Service | Dec. 12, 2012

WASHINGTON - Major changes to the Transition Assistance Program will revolutionize the way the military prepares those leaving the services, with mandatory participation in programs throughout their military careers to help set them up for a successful transition.

The redesigned program, called Transition Goals Planning Success or Transition GPS, was unveiled by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.

Service members from the Guard and reserve who are being released from active duty service and have served at least 180 days are also affected by the program. The goal, said officials, is to impart skills such as resume writing and the tools and opportunities to be “career ready” after coming off active duty.

The revamped transition program is part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act, which also makes other changes such as calling for state governments to review their licensing laws and, if needed, revamp those regulations to make it easier for Guard members serving in certain fields—such as combat medics, truck drivers, aircraft technicians and other fields—to make greater use of their military skills in the civilian sector.

Soldiers from the Army National Guard will go through VOW Act requirements throughout the mobilization and deployment process while Airmen from the Air National Guard will execute those requirements either at their home station, if it is co-located on an active duty installation, or at the closest active duty installation.

The National Guard implementation of the VOW Act focuses on providing Soldiers, Airmen and families with all the transition benefits to include VA enrollment, education benefits, and employment assistance, employment transition assistance as close to their home communities as possible, officials said.

One of the biggest changes in the transition program is that participation is no longer voluntary.

Based on a law that took effect Nov. 21, service members can no longer opt out of the transition assistance program.

During phase one of the rollout, being implemented immediately, all separating service members will receive counseling about Department of Veterans benefits, said Susan S. Kelly, principal director of the Defense Department’s Transition to Veterans Program Office.

In addition, most service members will be required to attend newly revamped employment workshops run by the Department of Labor. These workshops incorporate new curriculum such as how to explore career interests, use search tools to find job opportunities, write a resume, interview for a position and negotiate a salary, said John Moran, DOL’s deputy assistant secretary for Veterans Employment and Training Service.

The Defense Department and departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor aligned their most successful programs to deliver better and more comprehensive services to help make service members “career ready” for civilian employment, officials said.

While fulfilling the congressional mandate to reach out to all separating service members, the interagency team went a step beyond the law to further enhance the effort, Kelly said. Separating service members must now take financial planning training, and complete a 12-month budget that factors in the cost of where they decide to live after leaving the military. They must evaluate how their military-acquired education, training and experience translate into civilian career qualifications and prepare an individual transition plan.

The task force ran a pilot program last summer at seven installations to evaluate this core curriculum, gathering assessments from about 950 military members who participated.

“Many in the pilot programs found it eye-opening,” Kelly said.

The seven pilot sites continue to offer the DOL workshops, but the instruction will be available service-wide by January, Moran said.

The program’s second phase, to be tested during 2013 and implemented by the year’s end, establishes requirements for separating service members who plan to go on to college or technical or career training or to start their own businesses.

Those electing higher education or other training will be required to show an acceptance letter from that institution, or have an application filled out and ready to submit, Kelly said. They also will be required to establish a contact with a counselor to follow up with after leaving the military.

Also during phase two, service members who hope to become entrepreneurs will be required to connect with the Small Business Administration for help in drafting and evaluating their small business plans.

The final phase of the rollout to be implemented by the end of 2014 will integrate transition preparation throughout the service member’s military career. The idea, Kelly explained, is to begin preparations for transition long before a service member prepares to leave the military.

“The end state that we are shooting for is to embed this across the military lifecycle,” she said.

Each service will develop a plan designating points along a service member’s career path for this training, Kelly said.

Danny Pummill from the VA called the Transition GPS program an unprecedented interagency effort that ensures service members have the time and resources to prepare for a smooth transition from the military.

It will help the nation’s newest veterans live up to their destinies as “the next greatest generation,” he said.

“If we do this right, this is our opportunity to once again transform America,” Pummill said.