contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
There are currently more than 1.3 million active duty service members, and by the end of 2022, nearly 200,000 of them will separate from the military. The reality is that the transition from military to civilian life is difficult, especially for those who have spent their entire careers as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Enter: Military Transition Assistance Program.
In 1990, Congress established a program to assist transitioning service members. The military Transition Assistance Program, TAP for short, is a collaborative program involving the Department of Labor, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Small Business Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management.
This program provides information, tools, and training to help transitioning service members and their families prepare for their first steps into civilian life. All transitioning service members must complete at least a portion of this program prior to separation from the military.
Service men and women are required to start their TAP program no less than 365 days prior to separating from the military. The following sessions and seminars comprise the complete TAP program.
An individualized, initial counseling (IIC) session marks the official start of a service member’s transition. A TAP counselor provides a self-assessment to help service members identify the needs of their individual transition process. Additionally, the counselling session will uncover post-transition goals and assist the service member in beginning to construct an individual transition plan (ITP). Completing the ITP is a requirement for anyone transitioning from military to civilian life.
Following the IIC session, pre-separation counseling provides detailed information important to Veterans surrounding the topics of benefits, entitlements, and resources. Because so much of the information covered in the pre-separation counseling session applies to the entire family, spouses and caregivers are encouraged to attend, as well.
This portion of TAP’s military transition program is led by the Department of Defense and covers a broad range of topics, broken into several modules throughout the day. Research has shown that topics covered during the DoD transition day are often sticking points for transitioning service members. While the Military Transition Assistance Program is evaluated and modified each year, it always covers the following subjects in some form: building resiliency through transition, translating military skills to a civilian workforce, and financial planning for transition.
Another required portion of TAP’s military program, The VA briefing, is key to building an understanding of VA benefits, available services, and tools earned through military service. This includes everything from vocational, career, and education benefits, to housing, health, and community connection, as well as benefits for Veterans who are disabled. Transition assistance programming through the VA is intended for service members only, but the important information covered in this part of TAP applies to Veterans as well as their families, caregivers, and survivors.
This workshop aims to help transitioning service members continue to identify post-separation goals and further develop their ITP. Initial material includes establishing effective career goals, surveying the job market, interview acumen, identifying marketable personal skills, resume building, networking, negotiating, and more.
From there, Service members choose one or more of the following tracks. These choices are based on the goals set during initial counseling sessions and the ITP.
Education: assists service members who will be pursuing a college degree.
Employment: covers best practices in career building such as interviewing, using technology, and job search tips.
Entrepreneurship: guides those interested in exploring business ownership or self-employment.
Vocational: offers an opportunity to complete several career development assessments to further define post-separation plans and goals.
Women’s Health Transition: helps service women understand the VA’s health care benefits and services available to them, specifically.
Also available through the VA as part of the Veterans transition assistance program is the Military Life Cycle module. This includes short educational seminars that dive deeper into the topics covered during the VA briefing. Like many other modules, this portion of the Veterans TAP program can be completed virtually.
The Capstone Event, which occurs at least 90 days prior to separation, is the culmination of the Military Transition Assistance Program. It evaluates each service member’s readiness to transition to civilian life. During the Capstone briefing, commanders verify that service members have met the military’s Career Readiness Standards and have a viable individual transition plan. If it is determined that a service member requires or desires additional assistance, they will be assigned an appropriate partner such as the VA or the Department of Labor to further assist during their period of transition.
Each branch of the military manages the TAP program for their service members. To learn more about transitioning from active duty to civilian life, explore transition websites by service branch:
For additional resources pertaining to transition and separation, be sure to subscribe to our military blog. Every week we discuss topics relevant to military service members and Veterans such as Veterans benefits, employment, healthcare, and so much more.