The National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 mandates several improvements to the Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) that each of the services administer prior to a service member’s expiration of time in service (ETS).
While long overdue, these improvements and their good intentions will still fall short of what transitioning service members ultimately need to set up themselves, their families, and their prospective employers for success in their next act in life. This is not a swipe at the purveyors of TAP, but rather a recognition of the breadth of needs that transitioning veterans have and a realization of the government’s inability to address them all.
This should serve as a wake-up call for all service members in what they need to consider in departing the military.
So, what needs do veterans typically have in transitioning from the military? This list is long and can be burdensome. These needs may be summarized as follows:
• Career (not just a job)
• Translated competencies
• Social network
• Veteran peer connections
• Volunteer opportunities
• Structure / order
• Access to care
• Life counseling
• Mental health
• Insurance (if not covered by the VA)
• Housing and sustenance
• Legal assistance
• Access to financial resources
In light of these needs, it is helpful to define what a successful transition would entail. I would submit that a successful transition occurs when a veteran:
• Finds meaningful employment aligned with their strengths and preferred career field
• Satisfies their and their family’s basic needs (daily needs noted above)
• Identifies resources required to address any post-military transition needs
• Acquires healthy means to cope with the stressors of transition
• Has established 12-month personal and professional goals
• Positively contributes to the broader community of transitioning veterans (i)
So, which of these does the government actually address and for which of these are veterans responsible? The answer is quite simple. Unless a veteran is retired, receiving disability compensation, eligible for the GI Bill, or has access to the nearest VA hospital, he or she is ultimately responsible for meeting all those needs. Re-read that last sentence. By and large, a successful transition depends upon the veteran.
Transition is a difficult process that takes years to successfully navigate, and the cost of failure may be catastrophic. According to a recent study, “44 percent of veterans experience high levels of difficulty when reintegrating into civilian life,” (ii) and veterans who experience the highest difficulty during their transition are 5.4 times more likely to experience suicidal ideation. (iii) In fact, the suicide rate is significantly higher among post-9/11 veterans, which comprise the 18-34 age group. Those rates have more than doubled from 2006 to 2016 — out-pacing all other age groups — despite improvements in mental health services and long-term care (see chart below). (iv)
The good news is that there is much support available to assist veterans in their transition efforts. But they need help in navigating the proverbial “sea of goodwill.”