Military leaders aren’t doing enough to ensure that troops are ready for civilian life after their service ends, according to a pair of key senators who are asking for service officials to come up with fixes to the transition process.
“The Armed Services do a superb job training Marines, sailors, [Coast Guardsmen], soldiers, airmen and guardians,” Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., wrote in a letter to the service chiefs on Tuesday. “Now we need to take that same focused approach and care to prepare our service members to return to the civilian world with the tools and support they need to thrive in their next endeavors.”
The lawmakers — who sit on the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees — said the military is “falling short” in its requirement to prepare service members for jobs and challenges after their time in the ranks, particularly when it comes to the Transition Assistance Program.
Those programs have come under criticism in recent years for being too superficial for most departing troops, when they should be providing them with in-depth looks at what assistance services are available after they leave the military.
In December, a Government Accountability Office report found that 70% of transitioning service members did not begin the TAP classes until they were within a year of leaving the military, despite requirements that all troops undergo pre-separation counseling a year before departure.
“Service members who start TAP late face challenges with their transition to civilian life, such as being unable to take advantage of programs like SkillBridge or apply for disability benefits before leaving active service,” the lawmakers wrote. “We can and must do a better job to ensure our service members are supported in their transition back to the civilian life.”
Defense Department leaders have promised improvements in recent years. But Kramer and King — both of whom have promised to focus on the transition issue in legislative work throughout the year — are asking for specifics on TAP attendance, unit commander compliance with transition rules, and other program data to determine just how damaged the current system is.
About 200,000 troops leave U.S. military service annually. Past research has shown that veterans face their highest risk of mental health problems and suicide within the first year of separation.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.