President Obama announces overhaul for job help program

By Rick Maze – Staff writer Posted : Tuesday Jul 24, 2012 13:20:21 EDT

The 22-year-old Transition Assistance Program is about to take a leap into the 21st century, with more help for separating service members to meet their personal post-military goals.

“Starting this year, they’ll get more personalized assistance as they plan their careers,” President Obama announced in remarks before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev. “We’ll provide the training they need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that business. And just as they’ve maintained their military readiness, we’ll have new standards of career readiness.”

Obama’s speech comes at time when the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans appears to be falling, although it remains higher the national unemployment rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the June unemployment rate for veterans who left the military since 2001 was 9.5 percent, down from 13.3 percent in June 2011.

“More veterans are finding jobs,” Obama said. “Yes, it’s still too high, but it’s coming down, and now we’ve got to sustain that momentum.”

There will be more one-on-one counseling; separate tracks for those attending college, wanting to start their own businesses or to immediately convert their military-learned skill into a civilian job; more focus on the mechanics of getting a job; and more follow up, both at the end of the scheduled classes and after leaving the service, according to White House officials.

The change also spells the end of one of the most hated parts of the current Transition Assistance Program briefings, the 187-slide briefing offered as part of a Labor Department employment workshop that has gained the name of “Death by Powerpoint” for its mind-numbing qualities. It will be replaced to 49 slide and two videos, officials said, and a 270-page guide participants can take home with them to review details as they are needed.

A new name comes with the changes. Instead of being just TAP, it will now be TAP GPS, for “goals, planning and success,” which White House officials said is the new emphasis.

“We are moving away from the old ‘one-size fits all’ TAP,” said a senior White House official. “It is going to be a little more personalized, more individualized.”

It also will be a longer program. Instead of the current three days, including a three-hour mandatory class and an optional four-hour discussion of veterans benefits, 2.5-day employment workshop and two hours of discussion for those with service-connected disabilities, the revised training will be five to seven days.

Mandatory pre-separation counseling will be three to four hours, with a three-day employment workshop, two days to talk about financial planning family issues and to come up with a specific transition plan, two more days for the tracks on education, technical training and entrepreneurship, and a final review to verify service members have what they need.

White House officials said they intend for people to be able to attend more than one of the two-day career tracks, if that fits their needs.

About half of all separating service members have attended TAP classes and workshops in recent years. White House officials said they anticipate, once the redesigned training is widely available, that up to 140,000 additional people will take part, people who in the past were not interested in the help because they felt they had jobs lined up or were planning to attend college or vocational classes.

More attendance and more individualized attention may require more people to provide that help, but White House officials said there are no immediate plans to ask for more money.

Getting time off from duties has been one of the reasons why only about half of separating service members have attended TAP classes, so longer courses could create some difficulty. But White House officials said they expect the revised classes would have strong support from commanders, who would allow time off to attend except in unusual circumstances.

This will be the first major revision of transition training since it was created by Congress to help ease the transition to civilian life of service members whose military careers were cut short by the post-Cold War drawdown.

Since the 1990 launch, there were additions – such as more emphasis on résumé-writing and more discussion about how to apply for veterans’ disability compensation and other benefits – but no major overhaul, in part because of the problems getting agreement among the many federal agencies that have a piece of the program. Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor departments, the Office of Personnel Management and Small Businesses Administration leaders have been working since August 2011 to revamp TAP.

Pilot projects have begun or will soon begin at seven locations, involving about 1,000 troops, to work out wrinkles, and will be in operation defense-wide by the end of calendar 2013, White House officials said.

The pilot sites are: Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Sill, Okla.; the Army National Guard site in Utica, N.Y., Naval Air Station Jacksonville, N.C.; Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va.; Randolph Air Force Bases, Texas; and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Calif.

In addition to announcing the TAP changes, Obama also signed into law the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act on July 23, a bill directing federal agencies to treat military training as sufficient to receive a federal license or certification.

“If you are a young man that is in charge of a platoon or millions of dollars of equipment and are taking responsibility, or you’re a medic out in the field who is saving lives every single day, when you come home, you need to be credentialed and certified quickly so you can get on the job. People should understand how skilled you are, and there shouldn’t be bureaucrats or runarounds.”

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