The Military-Civilian Transition Office website begins its Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) – Career Readiness Standards (CRS) compliance sheet overview with the profound statement that “Our Nation should provide the best support possible to those who keep our country free and strong as they transition to civilian life.”
Regardless of their branch of service, deployments, jobs, duty titles, or component, service members and their families sacrifice a lot to keep our nation free. Yet every day we see or hear stories of unemployed or homeless veterans who deal with suicidal or other troubling thoughts. Veterans of all ranks who dedicated years of service, now feel like they went from being a “hero to a zero.”
We often do not realize how many of these veterans we see and pass each day that are suffering because we never stop to ask or get to know their stories. We tend to assume the worst based on their current disposition and do not realize that without proper planning, knowledge, and support, we could also be in the same position one day.
Soldiers may be aware that they qualify and readily apply for unemployment benefits, but they do not know how long it may take to find a job and too often assume anyone will quickly hire them for senior positions simply because they served in the military. Both former and current Soldiers fail to use the services and benefits the Army makes available to assist the transition from the military to civilian careers.
We also do not anticipate the psychological and sociological impacts of transitioning from the military. Soldiers in that transition process may feel anxious or excited and many are eager to return to civilian life. Even as Reserve Soldiers, we fail to understand the impacts the military has on our lives. The things we thought we hated and took for granted are no longer available, resulting in possible culture shock.
Fortunately, for those of us who are still serving it is not too late. Congress realized there was a problem and began addressing it more than 30 years ago.
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) was initially established by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 1991 (P.L. 101- 510). The original purpose of the program was to help ease the transition to civilian life for military service members who were involuntarily separated as part of the drawdowns in the late 1980s. Until 2011, the program’s primary interest was regarding troops who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2011, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act (Title II of P.L. 112-56), which made a pre-separation counseling program mandatory for all service members served at least 180 continuous days of active duty. Current law requires service members to begin participating in TAP as soon as possible. It also specifies that pre-separation counseling should commence no later than 90 days before the date of discharge or release unless precluded by unanticipated circumstances or operational requirements.
That same year, the Obama Administration established the Veterans’ Employment Initiative Task Force with the Departments of Defense (DOD) and The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), charging the task force to redesign TAP. The redesigned Transition Goals, Plans, Success (GPS) program included a Military Life Cycle component that started preparing the service member for civilian transition at the beginning of their military career and at certain milestones (e.g., promotion, deployment) throughout that career. At each milestone, they were made aware of CRSs and given opportunities to review and adjust personal financial planning objectives and individual development plans.
In 2018, President Donald Trump significantly changed the TAP process when he signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19 NDAA) into law. FY19 NDAA made it mandatory for Soldiers to begin TAP no later than 365 days prior to their anticipated separation date. This allows Soldiers to start early while giving them flexibility needed to prevent a conflict between mission requirements and TAP services. It also ensures compliance with timeliness standards to ensure and promote the program’s effectiveness.
The Army remains committed to eliminating these horror stories by maintaining its commitment and focus to ensure the transition from military life is successful and long lasting. The Army TAP, formally known as the Soldier for Life – TAP, is responsible for providing Soldiers and their families support required by CRS, including counseling, employment and education workshops, and seminars to “prepare” and “connect” Soldiers to ensure the greatest opportunities for successful as they transition from the Army to civilian life. Service members are also encouraged to start early and go often to increase their chance of post-transition success.
The Army and the DoD continue to maintain their commitments to effectively address transition issues by constantly implementing policies and practices that focus on readiness and support for service members and their families. About 200,000 service members transition to civilian life each year. Regardless of their branch of service, or component (including active duty, Army National Guard or Army Reserve) the program is open and highly recommended for all transitioning service members with at least 180 days of active federal service.
The Army’s goal for TAP is targeted towards its human resource needs and requires the support of every leader. As an employer, the Army spends more than $500 million dollars a year for unemployment compensation paid to recently separated Soldiers. Each Soldier who meets the eligibility criteria is entitled by law to up to 26 weeks of unemployment compensation which the Army must pay. The Army is also required to inform transitioning Soldiers of their eligibility for unemployment compensation. TAP helps transitioning Soldiers to understand the negative impact of unemployment towards their career goals. Other goals are to provide transitioning Soldiers with detailed job assistance training, counseling, and resources they need to quickly find a job preferably before they leave active-duty service, including those in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
Based on an Army Research Institute study, full use of all TAP services demonstrated reduced time for transitioning Soldiers to find a job and increases the amount of money they earned. Another goal is for commanders to assist Soldiers with getting an early start by initiating a formal notification process. Soldiers must then register for services and schedule their first service.
All Soldiers who are separating, retiring, or being released from a period of at least 180 days of active duty must complete TAP. All Soldiers must begin the TAP process at least 365 days prior to their anticipated transition from the Army. Army Reserve Soldiers on drill status are eligible for TAP services on a space available basis. Reserve component Soldiers with more than 180 days of continuous active federal service, 1,500 or more session points or approximately 15 to 20 years of service. Qualified Army Reserve Soldiers remain eligible for TAP services for six months after they leave the military or from the date they returned from mobilization. Retirees and eligible family members can initiate TAP services up to 24 months prior to their retirement date and remain eligible for life.
Program Highlights and Overview
Soldiers need an average of 40 hours, spread over a 12–24-month period, to take full advantage of Army TAP services. TAP begins with the Soldiers appointment for their first service, which includes individualized and pre-separation counseling with a self-assessment, complete DD Form 2648, the Pre-separation Counseling Checklist, more information about Army TAP and schedule additional services.
The counseling checklist or DD Form 2648 documents the Soldiers achievement of TAP requirements and determines if the Soldier and their unit have met the Army’s timeliness standard. The program includes five required core courses, five Transition Track courses and nine courses that provide Soldiers with opportunities to align their military career with their civilian goals. Soldiers need to call 1-800-325-4715 or contact TAP online at https://www.sfl-tap.army.mil/Contact to schedule an appointment with a counselor and register for the virtual classes.
All Soldiers must begin the TAP process no later than 365 days prior to the date of their anticipated transition from active duty. Reserve component Soldiers with more than 180 days of continuous service but less than 365 days of mobilization must complete the self-assessment and individualized initial counseling during pre-mobilization, or as soon as possible thereafter. Below are the recommended timelines for each part of the program to receive maximum benefit from the program. Following the timeline are detailed descriptions with the completion time for each course. The courses are all currently done virtually along and can be accessed at https://tapevents.org/courses.
- 12-18 months:
— Individualized Initial Counseling and Self-Assessment *must be done first*
— Pre-Separation Counseling
- 12-15 months:
— Army Day
– MY Transition
– MOS Crosswalk
– Financial Planning for Transition
- 9-12 months:
— DOL Employment Fundamentals
- 7-9 months:
— VA Benefits & Services with eBenefits Registration
- 4-7 months:
— Continuum of Military Service Counseling (AC Only)
- 4-6 months:
— Career Tracks
— Capstone *must be done last*
Core Requirement Courses
- Managing Your (MY) Transition
This course provides an overview of the Transition Assistance Program. It emphasizes the importance of preparing for transition from military service to the civilian life.
- VA Benefits and Services
This course explains how to navigate your transition with VA benefits and services. The course also includes supporting yourself and your family, getting career ready, finding a place to live, maintaining your health, and connecting with your community.
- Financial Planning for Transition
This course provides an understanding of how transition may impact the service members’ finances and provides the tools and resources for a successful financial transition.
- Military Occupational Code (MOC) Crosswalk
This course helps to identify and translate military skills, training, and experience into appropriate credentialing for civilian jobs.
- Employment Fundamentals of Career Transition
This is the foundation course introduces the essential tools and resources needed to evaluate career options, gain information for civilian employment, and understand the fundamentals of the employment process for transition from military to civilian careers
- Education Track: Managing Your (MY) Education (4 Hours)
This course is for service members looking to pursue or complete an undergraduate or graduate degree. It includes information on choosing a field of study, selecting an institution, gaining admission, and education funding.
- Employment Track: Employment Workshop (10.5 Hours)
This course presents a comprehensive view covering best practices in career employment, including learning interview skills, building effective resumes, and using emerging technology to network and search for employment.
- Entrepreneurship Track: Boots to Business (8 Hours)
This track is geared towards those interested in business ownership or other self-employment opportunities. It teaches how to evaluate business concepts, develop a business plan, the resources available to access technical assistance, start-up capital, contracting opportunities, and more.
- Vocational Track: Career and Credential Exploration (7 Hours)
This course helps to complete personalized career development assessments of occupational interests and aptitudes. Service members are guided through a variety of career considerations which includes labor market projections, education, apprenticeships, certifications, and licensure requirements.
- Women’s Health Transition Training (6 Hours)
This course helps transitioning and recently separated service women veterans understand the VA health care benefits and services available to them. The course also covers the available women’s health services, how to enroll in VA health care along with other transition assistance tools and resources.
Military Life Cycle (MLC)
- Reserve Component Dual Payments (45 min)
This course provides an overview on drill pay, compensation eligibility, and dual payment.
- Social and Emotional Health Resources (45 min)
This course describes services and provides information on resources for coping with life experiences and stressors that may impact social and emotional health.
- Survivor and Casualty Assistance Resources (45 min)
This course provides an overview on VA and DoD survivor benefits and eligibility, and what to do in the event of a loss.
- Transitioning to Federal Employment
This course provides information, tools, and links that will help service members interested in continuing their service through federal employment. The course has five steps, plus an introduction to federal employment, taught through the eyes of Teresa, a recently separated veteran who is looking for a job in the federal government.
- VA Benefits 101 (45 min)
This course highlights VA benefits and services to include education, home loan guaranty, health care, and insurance and memorial benefits.
- VA Education Benefits (45 min)
This course provides information about DoD and VA education benefits to include Post-9/11 benefits that may help service members pay for or offset the cost of tuition, housing, books and supplies.
- VA Home Loan Guaranty Program (45 min)
This course offers a general overview of the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program including eligibility, processes, costs, and other available resources.
- VA Life Insurance Benefits (60 min)
This course discusses the different types of VA life insurance benefits to help determine the best choice for service members and their loved ones based upon interests and needs.
- Vet Centers
This course describes how to connect with local Vet Centers and how service members, Veterans, and their loved ones can use Vet Centers as a free resource.
TAP counselors and staff are world-wide and located on most Army installations. For more information about the program and upcoming calendar of events, TAP Virtual Center is available 24-hour / 7-days a week, minus three holidays a year by visiting https://www.sfl-tap.army.mil, or by calling 1-800-325-4715.