By: Matthew Evans, CWOA Intern
The Military to Civilian Transition Session is explored, with a primary focus on addressing the efficiency and issues of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Key concerns raised by senators and various stakeholders include mental health, accountability, the smooth transition of healthcare plans to the VA, employment opportunities, and participation rates in TAP courses, with discussions highlighting potential improvements and recent changes made by relevant government departments.
October 18, 2023
United States Senate Committee on Armed Services
Military to Civilian Transition: Ensuring Success After Service
The primary focus of the Military to Civilian Transition Session was to address the efficiency, usage, and issues of the Transition Assistance Program, otherwise known as TAP. There were a number of issues and topics which the various senators had, the ones with the most focus being mental health, accountability, ensuring a smooth transition of DoD health plans and information to the VA, employment opportunities, and the lack of attendance for TAP courses.
The committee had a variety of interests and critiques related to the TAP program, as well as the current approach of various departments to TAP. The primary topics of discussion were mental health and accountability, which were each addressed by five Senators, along with the smooth transition between DoD programs and the VA, a topic discussed by three Senators. Some other key issues that were discussed include the individualization of TAP, state and federal cooperation for transitioning service members, the employment of spouses, and financial stressors which impact transitioning.
Regarding current issues with the TAP program and the overall transitioning process, representatives from the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Veterans Affairs discussed numerous issues. These issues were identified through research conducted by each department. The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes that the majority of servicemen do not consider the VA to be a major necessity to worry about. The Government Accountability Office recognizes numerous key issues, such as, the inefficiency of the current federal to state credential program, the lack of mandates being followed, specifically the waiving of TAP course requirements, and finally the issue of 70 percent of service members not completing all of their TAP courses. Another key issue which involves both the Department of Defense and the VA is the waiting period between transferring information between the different healthcare systems and the long waiting periods for appointments.
The second panel included representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Blue Star Families, the American Legion, and the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs of Kansas State University. The key issues stated by this panel are the promotion of the TAP Promotion Act, earlier communication with service members, the issue of financial stressors, the lack of knowledge of possible reimbursement and travel vouchers, the BDD program, the issue of not completing TAP courses, predatory contracts, and the increased use of educational modules relating to TAP.
There are also numerous changes which have been recently made and some which are planned to be enacted by the various departments in coming months. The VA has begun incorporating an extra hour after TAP courses to help distribute more information from other departments, and to help create a more personalized approach to each service member. The Department of Labor has begun to take on a mentality where successful employment leads to better mental and physical health, in response to this they have begun expanding TAP workshops which help service members and veterans develop resumes and interview skills.
Key Issues among Committee Members:
-Senator Tester: Focused on mental health of service members and veterans. Interested in how the VA can be more effective. Was critical of why service members were not following the one-year transition program, wants commanders to be held accountable, promoted suicide prevention training, and wants to know how we can increase the efficiency of TAP but also maintain its standards.
-Senator Reed: Focused on the issue of participation in PAC classes from both service members and departments. Had issues with how challenging and slow the process to transfer from DoD healthcare to the VA system. Wants to know about how the issue of the lack of service members meeting the one year transition program will be fixed, supports the use of an electronic system that will unify the transition system of the healthcare systems of the DoD and the VA, also wants to have mandatory information sessions relating to TAP.
-Senator Moran: Focused on homelessness, unemployment, and suicide rates among veterans. Supports TAP classes and internships to help transition to civilian employment. Was critical of mandate not being followed and the waiving of TAP course requirements. Wants the DoD to investigate causes of mandates not being followed. Wanted information on whether recent changes have had enough time to make an effect. Also focused on the lack of knowledge and use of FOX grants.
-Senator Wicker: Focused on easing the transition process to increase the number of young Americans joining the military.
-Senator Fischer: Focused on the leeway given to TAP when it comes to the flexibility on an individual basis, wants to know if TAP programs are properly staffed, was also critical of lack of attendance of service members.
-Senator Hassan: Wants to know how there can be checkups on the first half of the transition process, doesn’t want everything to be relied on the actions of a service member, wants to increase local connections, is critical of the lack of knowledge of resources.
-Senator Scott: Critical that TAP is not working due to ¼ of service members not completing certain courses, was interested in how federal agencies are working with state governments.
-Senator Shaheen: Interested in how the GAO and the DoD are communicating when it comes to TAP courses, is critical of how coordination between departments is confusing and complicated. Wants to know how effective the US system for transition is compared to European allies, along with the suicide rates between US veterans and our allies' veterans. Also focused on increasing VA benefits and the mental health of veterans.
-Senator Schmitt: Focused on decreasing the burden on military spouses, wants to increase spousal employment. Wants to know how active-duty service members can use the transitioning tools, wants to also increase communication with employers.
-Senator Murray: Focused on a seamless transition from DoD healthcare to the VA system, also focused on the increased difficulties that female service members have, says the Women’s health transition program is under utilized, wants to know what the DoD is doing to increase financial literacy.
-Senator Cotton: Wants to know what the DoD is doing about foreign influence during the transitioning process, specifically, foreign offers or predatory contracts. Was interested in what barriers currently exist which make the transition process difficult. Also focused on what causes service members to transition out of the military.
-Senator Peters: Focused on the issue of mental health and cause in less than honorable discharge. Supports a review of mental health related discharges. Also supports offering services which “help seeking out help”, wants to know what is being done to let service members and veterans know about reviewal mental health and their less than honorable discharge.
-Senator Ernst: Focused on mental health, wants to know how TAP resources can assist with VA claims. Was also interested in what TAP offers outside of education and employment. -Senator Sinema: Focused on credentialing and the difficulties of transferring skills to the civilian world, wants to know how veterans are also using transitioning resources. Wants to know what can be done to increase awareness and participation in TAP before it is too late. -Senator Kelly: Interested in how development career programs can be formatted to start earlier in service member’s military service, such as MOS translation and college certificates. Also wanted to know how congress can help the promotion of TAP.
-Senator Sullivan: Interested in how the DoD is working with employers, unions, and contractors when it comes to transitioning. Wants more information when it comes to credentialing programs.
-Senator Blumenthal: Interested in skill training for the manufacturing industry along with transitioning to work for small and medium sized businesses.
-Senator Tillis: Focused on how TAP assist with the transition from the DoD to the VA. Wanted to know how you can increase enrollment in the VA. Supports the use of electronic health records in the VA.
-Senator Hirono: Focused on what the DoD and VA is doing to help soldiers get on base, critical of ID requirements. Wanted to know if the DoD tracks when veterans stop responding to outreach.
-Senator Blackburn: Focused on how the DoD and VA share information. Wanted information on wait times for mental health evaluations, information requests, and medical appointments. Supports increased individualization for the transition program to civilian employers.
-Senator King: Focused on the implementation of legislation, critical of legislative barriers and lack of attendance of TAP courses. Wanted information relating to whether or not there is an effort to work with states to remove certification requirements for service members that were qualified in the military.
-Senator Budd: Focused on spousal employment and employment opportunities for spouses after relocation.
-Senator Rosen: Focused on service members transitioning to the reserves, critical lack of access and time for resources while on active duty. Focused on financial stressors and the use of travel vouchers and reimbursement.
The views expressed in the articles in this publication are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organizations for which they work, CWOAUSCG, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, or the U.S. government.