Transition program fights veteran joblessness

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Brooke Betit
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Every year, the U.S. military services transition approximately 160,000 active-duty Service members out of the military. The Department of Labor Statistics anticipates that number to jump to more than 300,000 members separating annually over the next four years. To meet that increase, greater emphasis has been placed on helping transitioning Service members.

In July 2012, President Obama announced the launch of the new Transition GPS (Goals, Plans and Success) program. Not only did the government increase its efforts, but other entities also stepped up to help transitioning Service members, including many colleges and universities that provide academic credit for prior learning acquired in the military, as well as businesses recognizing the value of military training and experience.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average unemployment numbers among post-9/11 veterans has decreased to 7.4 percent in 2013, a significant change from the 2011 statistics of 12.1 percent.

"Our goal is to prepare and equip [Service members] to be career ready and apply their valuable military experience however and wherever they choose in the civilian workforce," Dr. Susan Kelly, deputy director of the Transition to Veterans Program office, stated in a testimony submitted to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Fully implemented Jan. 14, the Transition GPS program sought to meet that call to action, replacing the 20-year-old Transition Assistance Program by mandating a longer transition time and offering a five-day workshop. The program also increased staffing and requirements to meet the growing demand for transition services.

According to Reba Gordon, Transition Services manager for the Army Career and Alumni Program at Fort Eustis, the longer timeline makes for an easier transition from the military to civilian world.

"There are so many things to do to prepare for that change, and nobody can do everything they need to do in 90 days," Gordon said. "Our program sets a solid foundation for a transition. We give you the tools you need, and we have experts here to walk you through the process."

Some of those services include outlining the disability compensation application process, creating "e-Benefits," a go-to site for Service members to access benefits, including the status/process of their application in Veterans Affairs, apply for the GI Bill or home loans. The program also offers job fairs, expositions and other ways for military members to network.

Some, like Senior Master Sgt. Martin Zeigler, Combat Air Forces munitions policy manager at Headquarters Air Combat Command, decided to take advantage of those resources a little earlier than most. He began the Transition GPS program two years from retirement.

"I've served 21 years in the military and been to countries like Germany, Japan and England. I've loved moving around and I'll miss the camaraderie," he said. "But now, I want to provide a stable environment for my family."

Zeigler attended the Transition GPS program early to get a grasp on translating his military skills into civilian terms.

"I think military experience is a valuable asset to a civilian job," Zeigler said. "In the military, you get to learn how to be a leader. You also deal with a lot of diversity and you learn how to manage that."

Zeigler appreciates the services offered through the Transition GPS program.

"The last time I had to apply for a job was at age 20. I need to brush up a little," he laughed. "The GPS program helps me do that by translating my military jargon and skills to the civilian sector that might not understand. It provides you with the tools to make an easier transition."

Both the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Langley Air Force Base and the Army Career and Alumni Program at Fort Eustis provide similar Transition GPS programs. Over the course of five days, Service members meet with a financial specialist to develop a 12-month spending plan, a Department of Labor representative to prepare them for job searching and a Veterans Affairs representative to inform them of their entitlements.

Andreanetta Hollowell, Department of Labor employment workshop specialist, reiterated the importance of Transition GPS.

"Many of the individuals who come through our workshop are so used to being in the military that they may not recognize some of their key needs," she said. "We help them turn their enlisted performance report bullets into resume bullet statements. We prepare them for an interview and help them sell their skills."

The new Transition GPS program also mandated staffing accreditation to support the larger crowd transitioning out of the Air Force.

"The caliber of the people on the [Transition GPS] team and the experience they bring makes [AFRC] a great resource," said Ann Gregory, Transition GPS team member. "Not only can we help them through this program, we know resources in the community and can connect them with those resources easily.

"The upgrade came at a good time, with the roll-back program and the draw-down in the Air Force," she added. "Because of the reduction in the number of active-duty members, we have a bigger demand for our transition program."

The AFRC at Langley has increased the number of workshops to three sessions per month to meet the number of individuals transitioning out of the Air Force, with class sizes accommodating up to 35 people. Fort Eustis' program, ACAP, recently relocated to a new building to accommodate up to 40 students per class, also held three times each month.

"We give priority to short-notice separations, including those affected by roll-backs or medical evaluation boards," Gregory said. "We also try to target first-term Service members. Statistically, they are the age group with the highest unemployment."

After transitioning members attend the five-day course, they are able to choose from three capstone paths; higher education, technical training and entrepreneur. Each course lasts two days and provides Service members with resources and contacts to pursue their interests.

However, both Langley and Fort Eustis transition staff highlighted the importance of commander involvement in the program.

"If the commander knows the importance of the program, he can better help the Service member manage his or her time," ACAP manager Reba Gordon said. "Early involvement helps both the commander and Service member plan further out in advance so the member can also meet mission requirements while transitioning, and the mission isn't impacted."

U.S. Army Sgt. Brittany Young, a power generator mechanic for the 155th Inland Cargo Transfer Company, was able to start her transition 10 months before her service ended.

"It really opened my eyes to everything I needed to do, like taking care of my finances, working on networking and making my resume stand out," she said. "I learned a lot about leadership in the military and I want to take those skills and put them to use a little closer to my family and support system. This program helps me do that."

Both facilities at Langley and Fort Eustis offer transition assistance to all service branches. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Groening, a Seabee assigned to Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 at Naval Weapons Station, Cheatham Annex, Williamsburg, Va., also came to the class, largely to learn about the resources available to him.

"I loved my job. I'm really proud of what I did in the Navy," he said. "But I lost some of my hearing because of my job and I wanted to understand the benefits that are out there for me."

Transition GPS offers access to many such resources and deeper understanding of the processes that go into receiving benefits.

"If you're getting out, this program will give you a successful plan," Groening said.

While the Transition GPS program at Fort Eustis and Langley AFB offer transitioning Service members useful tools, it is ultimately up to the individual to capitalize on the training.

"This resource is going a long way towards helping them out and getting them ready to go," Gordon said.

The Department of Defense continues to seek out improved ways to bridge the gap between the military and civilian workforce for transitioning Service members through the GPS program, in an effort to decrease joblessness for the country's veterans.