Most Force Separation, Transition Assistance Programs to
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 4, 1997 Even with the military drawdown near completion, defense officials said they will continue offering service members early retirement and transition assistance in fiscal 1998.
DoD is budgeting $185 million to fund early retirement programs for eligible service members wishing to end their military careers. These programs will allow service members with between 15 and 19 years in the military to retire. They are also budgeting another $40 million to transition assistance programs designed to help military troops return to civilian life.
"We said right from the beginning when we started this [drawdown] that we have to make a commitment to those troops who committed themselves to military careers," said Fred Pang, DoD's assistant secretary for force management policy. "As we became smaller, we've had to find ways to be fair to our service members. We did that and we'll continue to do that with the '98 budget."
Each service generally uses early retirement in overstrength or discontinued job specialties. Army Lt. Col. William Foster of DoD's compensation office said nearly 4,900 service members -- mainly from the Army and Air Force -- will use the early retirement option.
Another $91 million will finance service members who took the Voluntary Separation Incentive -- one of two separation programs began in 1991. The program pays service members who had between six and 19 years of service an annual separation allowance, based on rank and longevity. The program was open to service members in overstrength skills.
Pang said DoD no longer accepts VSI applications nor offers the expired, lump-sum Special Separation Benefit. The military services said they do not need the programs to achieve their end strengths in fiscal 1998, Pang said. He said the programs could be revived id the services face further personnel reductions.
"This is one of the subjects we'll be addressing in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review," he said. "If there's a need for either or both programs, we won't hesitate to make them available to eligible service members."
Pang said the budget for separation programs is slightly lower than in fiscal 1997, but added it is because DoD is close to finishing its drawdown. "There are some cuts remaining in the Air Force and Navy, but the other services have finished their drawdown," said Pang. "The budget we're asking for should cover all those slated to separate in 1998."
To assist those leaving the military, Pang said DoD will continue its transition support services to help service members find civilian jobs. The $40 million budget routine operations, salaries and a variety of services designed to provide service members employment assistance before they separate. These include job fairs, computerized job networking and seminars on interviews and resume writing. They also include counseling on veterans benefits earned while serving on active duty.
"People are finding good jobs and it's because of good transition programs run by each of the services," said Pang. "Our systems are well-tested, mature programs -- programs that will continue even when DoD finishes its drawdown.
Although the military runs transition assistance offices, Pang said that contracting transition services to private firms cannot be ruled out in the future. "The underlying theme is that services [contractors] provide service members must not be degraded from what is already there," said Pang. "Our systems, as they currently stand, are pretty efficient and it shows you how well we do in providing aid to our members."
Pang said there are no immediate plans for changing to private transition assistance firms, but added that if an acceptable private plan comes around, it is something DoD will not rule out.