Story By: David Vergun, ANS
WASHINGTON – One of the biggest challenges Soldiers face is transitioning to civilian life. That transition got a boost when the Veterans Opportunity to Work, or VOW to Hire Heroes Act, went into effect in late 2012.
The act requires every Soldier to attend transition training classes.
But the Army already was working to make transitioning easier even before the act took effect, according to Walt Herd, transition chief at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
When the "re-engineered" Transition Assistance Program took effect Nov. 21, the Army already had 700 transition counselors in the field at 80 locations, including for the first time, some in U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility and in far-flung locations where Soldiers in the reserve component serve, according to Herd, who said that was double the capability the Army had just a year earlier.
And there's more. For decades, TAP involved attending classes. While classes are still offered, Herd said Soldiers now have options other than going to a brick-and-mortar structure at a fixed time and place.
"We now have 24/7 virtual capability where Soldiers can connect with a (master's degree) transition counselor via phone, webpage, email or via a virtual avatar-based ACAP center," he said. "These are the same services offered at brick-and-mortar centers here or overseas."
That call center number is 800-325-4715.
ACAP – Army Career and Alumni Program – is a transition and job-assistance program that goes beyond TAP in offering detailed job-assistance training. Their website is www.acap.army.mil, and their Facebook page is www.facebook.com/ArmyCareerandAlumniProgram. ACAP is offered both virtually and in a classroom setting and is now part of the expanded TAP.
Feedback from the field on the Army's transitioning efforts has been positive, Herd said, noting the flexibility of the new choice-based system is especially popular. "A Soldier can now work on his resume at midnight on Saturday via virtual contact with a live counselor, if he so chooses," Herd said. "The Army is currently the only service offering this benefit."
Transition assistance includes completing a Family budget, an individualized transition plan and a military occupational specialty crosswalk gap analysis. The latter, according to Herd, is a plan to match a Soldier's MOS with one or more civilian occupations. Soldiers can then build a more effective resume and also determine if a license or certification is required for those jobs or if additional training is warranted.
Other transitioning help will be available soon. The Department of Veterans Affairs will deliver a virtual benefits brief at 9 a.m. EST Dec. 21 and from Dec. 18 to 20. The Department of Labor will deliver its virtual employment workshop, and Herd said the Army will offer this on a regular basis, beginning in January.
Herd said all of these transitioning services are offered to Army family members as well as Soldiers. With 132,000 Soldiers alone transitioning this year, that's a pretty big audience if you include family members, he said.
Transition help will get even better in the future.
Next spring, the Army is piloting three different two-day seminars in education, entrepreneurial planning and vocational technical training.
Another pilot will be launched around the same time, known as the capstone event. "What this means," he said, "is that Soldiers will sit down with their commander and/or a counselor to ensure everything that needs to be done has actually been done: transition briefing, yes; budget, yes; resume, yes; training seminar, not yet."
The three two-day seminars and the capstone event are scheduled to go Armywide in October 2014, he said.
"By October 2014, Army transition efforts will be scattered throughout the lifetime of a Soldier, so you don't begin to think about transitioning the last year or so," he said. "Rather, you start the transitioning process the first year or so so you can prepare yourself with plans, certification, networking and so on throughout your career, whether it's just a 12-month mobilization or a 30-year career."
Herd said that while the Army is offering a host of transitioning services, "the most important thing that Soldiers can do is to go to their transitioning events early and often. Leadership support is essential to making this happen. This is key to a successful transition."