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Program Helps Servicemembers Transition to Civilian Life

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2009 – The Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program is working to prepare servicemembers and their families for a successful transition to civilian life.

"We are trying to ensure that [servicemembers] transition from active duty back to the civilian community is a smooth and seamless one," Ron Horne, deputy director for the Transition Assistance Program at the Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy told listeners during a “Dot Mil Docs” interview today.

The idea of the program is to make them aware of the support systems that are available to them, he said. The DoD has a partnership with the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs to help servicemembers with their transition. The program also works with the Department of Homeland Security for Coast Guard Members as well.

Horne said that the program has five major components to it: pre-separation counseling, Department of Labor employment workshops, VA benefits briefings, the Disabled Transition Assistance Program and one-on-one counseling, all of which take place at local military installations and bases.

The pre-separation counseling component consists of an overview of 16 topics that counseling and coaching addresses with service members, Horne said. It gives a review of transition services, benefits, and resources available for the transition process.

The employment workshop is “a baseline to start looking and preparing for employment,” said Horne. In the workshop, servicemembers go over skills including resume writing, creating cover letters, dressing for success and job search techniques.

The VA benefits briefing serves as a session to inform servicemembers of benefits they may be entitled to include the Montgomery GI Bill, healthcare, VA counseling and the home loan program.

Servicemembers who have a service related disability also must attend the DTAP briefing. “In this session they learn about the benefits they may be entitled based on their ratings from VA,” Horne said.

Once servicemembers have completed those four core components of TAP, they are eligible for one-on-one counseling at their installations transition office, Horne said. Transition counselors assist the servicemembers in a variety of ways including completing their resume, information on medical benefits and technology access.

For Army installations, services are provided by Army Career and Alumni Program Centers. On Navy installations, the transition assistance office is usually located at the Fleet and Family Support Center, at Marine Corps Bases the services are provided through the Marine Corps Community Services and Air Force services are provided through the Airmen and Family Readiness Flight centers. Members of the Coast Guard can receive services through Work-Life offices.

Horne also said that many separating servicemembers are not looking for employment but are returning to school. “We encourage them to use their education benefits because they've earned it and that is one way to ensure that they are prepared to compete with their contemporaries that were getting an education while they were on active duty,” he said.

He encourages servicemembers to start their transition process 12 months before voluntarily leaving the service and 24 months before retiring. “Anyone that reaches the 18th year mark should start the transition process,” he said. "It is overwhelming when you wait until the last minute.”

TAP also has a Web site, www.turbotap.org, which offers a timeline on the transitioning process and other resources that help with the entire process. “We are trying to get [servicemembers] started early enough so that they can plan to do things step by step.”

He also said the TAP office is “rethinking and reshaping the program,” so that transitioning isn’t an event but a process from when a servicemember joins the military to their departure or retirement or as long as they need assistance once they become a veteran. The program hopes to guide servicemembers in setting career goals and starting financial planning early. They are also finding ways to leverage technology to reach their younger audiences through Facebook, Twitter, and texting.

“We feel that TAP needs to be designed and developed in a way that when a member needs it, it will be there for them. Whether it's a facility at a base or online for someone that is at a remote location,” Horne said. “We think the future of Tap is bright and we have a way to go, but we have done some wonderful things.”

To learn more, visit www.health.mil/dotmildocs.

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media directorate.)

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