Most transition programs for troops exiting service are overly focused on education instead of direct job opportunities, and there is limited evidence such federally funded initiatives are working, according to a report published Tuesday by the Rand Corp.

Fairly few programs and a small amount of funding are dedicated to help transitioning service members, veterans and their families utilize their military skills as they enter the civilian labor market, the nonprofit’s report found. Instead, the vast majority of federal funding for transition programs supports classroom time, which, though valuable, should not be prioritized over immediate paths to career advancement, the authors of the report contend.

“Although further education is important for many veterans, most veterans enter the civilian workforce directly and might benefit from more employment-focused support,” the report noted.

With an estimated $13 billion spent annually on education, training and other aspects of the military-to-civilian transition, the nonprofit is offering recommendations to ensure the government’s investments are adequately meeting the needs of the roughly 200,000 service members discharged each year.

The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, identified 45 programs across federal agencies that provide employment support for service members, veterans and their dependents. It noted, according to the RAND report, that more than 90 percent of federal expenditures across those initiatives were allocated to educational assistance, but that “just under 50 percent of participants enrolled in education or training programs.”

Meanwhile, the authors of the analysis said they found virtually no evidence any programs they examined had a direct effect on transition outcomes, and that some initiatives — like the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program — were associated with lower wages for program participants.

In addition to suggesting a broad refocus to increase spending on programs that help troops and vets transition more efficiently, as well as more consistent budget reporting for related initiatives, the authors of the report advised that the Pentagon outsource career counseling through vouchers for troops and vets to work with private sector professionals.

The RAND report follows others in recent years from the GAO, which likewise called for enhancing transition programs. In one from last fall, DOD concurred with the GAO’s recommendations, such as assessing the effectiveness of its credentialing programs that allow troops to obtain civilian certifications and licenses before they leave service, and identified planned steps toward their implementation.

The report also comes as President Joe Biden’s administration has sought in recent months to recruit, hire and retain military spouses through special programs and by easing restrictions.

“Our investments in our service members’ training and education, financial readiness, and health and well-being, coupled with the whole of government efforts to support their transition, are proving effective,” Ashish Vazirani from the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness office told lawmakers last fall.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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