WASHINGTON — Soldiers will soon get more help transitioning from the Army to civilian life.
On Nov. 21, the Veterans Opportunity to Work, or VOW, to Hire Heroes Act requires every Soldier attend the Transition Training Program, according to Danny Pummill, Department of Veterans Affairs director of VA/Defense Department liaison, speaking to reporters at the 10th Annual Military Reporters and Editors Conference in the Rayburn House Office Building here, Oct. 19.
“This isn’t your ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ TAP from the 1990s,” he said, referring to dozens of PowerPoint slides on the Transition Assistance Program that were shown to service members during a one-day seminar. “[The new TAP] is well planned and thought out.”
“(TAP) is an adult, interactive learning environment similar to college with small group (discussions), as well as one on-one-counseling. It used to be we had a classroom of upwards of 350 people,” he said. “Now, our max is 50, and spouses are encouraged to attend.”
A number of pilot studies were conducted over the past year, including with the Army National Guard and Reserve, said Susan Kelly, director, DOD Transition to Veterans Program Office.
“We found that the needs of singles separating from a first tour were different than, say, a career Soldier with a family getting ready to retire,” she said. “We also found that each of the services have different cultures and ‘personalities. For example, Soldiers and Marines respond to (information) differently than a roomful of Airmen.”
So next month, what can Soldiers expect to see when the VOW Act is implemented?
The initial TAP will feature pre-separation classes ranging from health care, life insurance and disability to higher education, vocational training and home loans, according to Kelly. She said the other parts of the VOWS Act will be implemented in phases from then until the end of 2014.
By the end of 2013, Transition Goals-Plans-Success, known as GPS, will replace TAP, Kelly said. She explained that GPS is a classroom and one-on-one session with service members and their spouses to formulate a plan, including a detailed budget.
The plan could be vocational training or college, in which case the service member would meet with a representative from that institution and begin the paperwork process. She said those service members wanting to start their own business would meet with a representative from the Small Business Administration to go over the feasibility of their business plan and funding resources.
For those wanting to enter the private or government sector workforce, she said career planners would assist with resume writing and job searches and meetings could be arranged with subject-matter experts in the targeted occupational fields. She said service members would also have a plan B in place in case something didn’t work out.
Other aspects of the plan include meetings with counselors to focus on the social and psychological factors, which she said are just as important to Soldiers transitioning. These factors are important, she said, because Soldiers are used to living in a structured environment and they need to be better prepared to be on their own.
Kelly said special efforts are being made to reach out to the Army Guard and Reserve to ensure they are getting all of the assistance too. In the case where Soldiers are living far from installations, transition teams would be sent out and some of the training that would otherwise be in a classroom could be done in a “virtual classroom” setting.
By the end of 2014, Soldiers will prepare for transitioning “across their military lifecycle,” she said. In other words, training programs with timetables will be formally instituted as soon as a service member enters the military, she explained. “In addition to being ‘military ready,’ they will now be ‘career ready.’”
The transitioning effort established by the VOW Act is a joint effort of the Defense Department, Department of Labor, VA, Department of Education, SBA, the Office of Personnel Management and the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Pummill, who served 34 years in the Army before his current duties, said “if someone told me six government agencies would come up with a plan, I wouldn’t have believed it would work. I’ve been meeting with them for a year now and we’re working things through. It’s a model for how government agencies can get together and share manpower and resources and do the right thing, in this case for service member; and, this is best plan possible to take care of our service members.”