By Debbie Gregory.
For years, service members who were separating from the military participated in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The mandated program took two or three days, and explained Veteran benefits and information that was deemed useful for transitioning Veterans. Many service members and Veterans claimed that the program was incomplete, insufficient, or a waste of their time. Many Veterans felt that they separated from the military with little information about their benefits and how to claim them. Veterans and Veteran advocacy groups have blamed deficiencies with the military’s transition assistance policies for high Veteran unemployment (averaging over 9% for GWOT Vets) and suicide rates (21+ per day). Law makers heard the complaints and called for improving the Transition Assistance Program as part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.
Congress demanded improvements, which led to the redesigned TAP, called Transition Goals, Plans, Success (GPS). Transition GPS is more than just a Family Assistance Center or Fleet and Family Support Center representative talking to service members. Transition GPS was designed as a partnership between the DOD, the VA, the Departments of Labor and Education, as well as the Office of Personnel Management and the Small Business Administration. All of these entities collaborated to create a core 40 hour comprehensive workshop for service members imminently separating from the military.
Transition GPS curriculum includes three phases; the first phase is a mandatory two days of training on VA benefits, personal finances, family adjustment and mentorship. The second phase is a mandatory three days of training for their new careers. This training includes Department of Labor employment workshops, instruction in employment searches, resume writing, job interviews and how to use social media to benefit employment searches. The third phase is a voluntary two days of instruction with options to focus on either preparing for 1) college: relays information about the GI Bill, applying for financial aid and how to approach campus and classroom life. 2) career: provides information on technical training and how to acquire civilian professional certifications and licenses. 3) entrepreneurship: relays information from the SBA to service members who wish to start their own businesses.
The program officially began in November, 2012, when the pilot group of transitioning service members took the first courses a year prior to separation. So far, the program is receiving high marks. It is succeeding in engaging the service members, focusing on matters that are pertinent to them and their needs. But just like with the old TAP class, Veterans will get out of the program what they put into it while they were still serving. Service members are advised to take full advantage of Transition GPS. The program does have the potential to remove the negative statistics in the Veteran community.