- Filed Under
Regulations require that separating soldiers receive transition services no later than one year before departing active duty, but Army is moving toward a strategy that will initiate those services much earlier in a soldier’s career.
Research data indicates that soldiers can markedly improve their chances of having a successful transition by participating in the Army Career and Alumni Program “early and often,” according to Walter Herd, director of ACAP, an agency of the Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky.
Survey data shows that soldiers who delay their classes and briefings to less than one year before separation or retirement generally feel they do not have enough time to make transition preparations.
Herd emphasized that commander involvement and support is critically important to the transition process, as they are responsible for making sure soldiers are given enough time for meeting the Army’s career readiness standards for separation.
These standards essentially are a menu of services delivered by ACAP centers and counselors.
Included are the three legal mandates of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2012 — pre-separation counseling, two classes on Veterans Affairs benefits and a Department of Labor workshop.
Other segments of the ACAP regimen:
• Development of a 12-month post-transition budget.
• Counseling and briefings on National Guard and Army Reserve opportunities for departing active component soldiers. Herd notes that about one-half of the soldiers who transition from the Regular Army join the reserves.
• A “gap” analysis between a soldier’s military occupational specialty, and its associated training and typical job experience, with a similar skill in the civilian sector.
• Development of an individual transition plan.
• Development of a job application packet.
• Information about the Department of Labor Gold Card program, which provides unemployed post 9-11 veterans with interviews and testing, group and individual counseling, job referrals and other priority services at DOL’s 3,000 job centers nationwide.
• Capstone, a quality-control check to verify that a departing soldier is career-ready and has a viable transition plan. Capstone certifications will be made by a soldier’s commander, ACAP counselor, or both, 90 days before a soldier’s transition.
Herd said full implementation of these services remains a work in progress, as about 75 percent of departing active component soldiers receive counseling and classes mandated by VOW, but fewer than that have met the other career readiness standards.
Participation by departing Guard and Reserve soldiers do not meet the standards of VOW or CRS.
Greater commander involvement and engagement will help improve these issues, Herd said.
During the past year, about 130,000 soldiers received Army transition services, although annual totals vary, according to Herd.
The totals only include soldiers who are eligible for transition services, such as Regular Army members and mobilized reservists. They do not include reservists who come on active-duty for a few weeks or training.
During the next two years, about 120,000 soldiers are projected to process through ACAP annually.
Under federal law, the targets for transition services are: Regular Army soldiers who separate after at least 180 days on active duty, and National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers who are demobilizing after six months or more on active duty.
To meet the VOW requirements, and to support the transition of soldiers during a major drawdown of forces, ACAP has increased its counselor and support staff from 250 people to 700, and the number of brick and mortar ACAP centers from 50 to 71, including one in Kuwait.
The ACAP virtual center, available at www.acap.army.mil, serves about 2,000 soldiers monthly, making it the most active of all the centers worldwide, Herd said.
“Soldiers now can pick and choose how they want transition assistance delivered — either in a face-to-face meeting with a counselor, or (over the Internet) on a day and time of their choosing.
“What we’re finding is that many soldiers are using the virtual center for follow-on counseling. They may attend a resume-writing class at an ACAP center, but then use the virtual ser ices to fine-tune the resume with a counselor,” he said.
The virtual center allows soldiers to communicate with counselors by telephone, or by chat video or via an avatar.
The counselors will keep records from the virtual session, so that if that if a soldier receives counseling Saturday, those records will be visible for a follow-on session at a regular ACAP center the following week.
Veterans can use the virtual ACAP center for up to six months after separation.
ACAP services will continue to expand, so that this coming October the Army will introduce the Military Life Cycle, which will incorporate portions of the transition program by distributing segments of the readiness standards throughout a soldier’s career.
Under this strategy, soldiers will complete an individual development plan during their first 180 days of service, and then update the plan at various career touch points in their career, such as deployments, mobilization, re-enlistments and senior NCO promotions.