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Witness Testimony of Dr. Susan Kelly, Deputy Director, Transition to Veterans Program Office, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense

 

STATEMENT

OF

DR. SUSAN KELLY

DEPUTY DIRECTOR

TRANSITION TO VETERANS PROGRAM OFFICE

OFFICE OF THE UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PERSONNEL AND READINESS

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

BEFORE THE

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

HEARING

ON THE

TRANSITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

 

SEPTEMBER 20, 2012



 

 

Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the views of the Department of Defense (DoD) on the redesign of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP, the cornerstone of the Department’s transition efforts, is a collaborative partnership between DoD, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It is the primary platform used to deliver an extensive array of services and benefits information to all eligible separating, retiring and demobilizing/deactivating Service members.

Our overall goal at the Department of Defense is to ensure those who are leaving Service are prepared for their next step – whether that step is pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector, or starting their own business. Particularly in this economic climate, we are concerned about the number of unemployed veterans, especially our 18-24 year old population. Finding ways to help veterans to successfully transition to civilian life is a priority for the President and the Department.

Redesigned TAP

Under the leadership of President Obama, and with strong bipartisan support in Congress, we have fundamentally redesigned TAP. This redesign effort involves a strong interagency partnership that will make the needs of today’s Service members and their families the top priority.

In his “Call to Action” on August 5, 2011, the President mandated the creation of a joint DoD and VA task force to work with the White House economic and domestic policy staff and other agencies to develop proposals to maximize the career readiness of all Service members. As a result, the DoD/VA Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI) Task Force was established in



 

 

September 2011, with representatives from the Departments of Labor and Education, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and the President’s economic and domestic policy teams.

The President also emphasized the need to develop reforms to ensure that every Service member receives training, education, and credentials needed to transition to the civilian workforce, pursue higher education, and be “career ready” upon separation from the military. In the TAP redesign, a new career readiness standard for Service members seeking employment requires a quality resume (public or private sector), professional personal references and/or aa job application or an acceptance letter from a potential employer. Service members pursuing degrees or career technical training will meet the career readiness standard for education or career technical training by completing an application package for submission to an education or training institution, providing confirmed appointments with an institution’s academic counselor and connection with student veteran organizations, or an acceptance letter to an academic or training institution. Student veteran organizations benefit veterans by providing an opportunity to interact socially with other student veterans who have similar experiences and challenges. Other examples of career readiness standards include registration in eBenefits, a completed Individual Transition Plan (ITP), and a 12 month post military budget reflecting personal goals. These are several examples of our new “career readiness standards” Service members will meet before they are separated from military service.

In July 2012, President Obama announced the launch of the “Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success)”, the culmination of the TAP redesign efforts that will establish the career readiness standards, extend the transition preparation through the entire span of a Service member’s career, and provide counseling to facilitate the development of an individual transition



 

 

plan. The Department anticipates approximately 307,000 Service members will separate annually over the next 4 years. Our goal is to prepare and equip them to be career ready and apply their valuable military experience however and wherever they choose in the civilian workforce.

Transition GPS improvements recognize the Military Services’ cultural differences and the unique circumstance of Reservists and National Guard members. The Services have the flexibility to modify the program to reflect unique Service culture while maintaining the program’s standardized curriculum and mandatory learning objectives. This flexibility provides Services opportunity to adjust for their Service members’ individual transition goals and Service mission requirements. The end state for each Service member is to meet the Career Readiness Standards for the career plan they have chosen, regardless of branch of Service.

The building blocks of the new Transition GPS consist of Pre-separation counseling, CORE Curriculum, optional tracks and CAPSTONE.

                        • Pre-separation Assessment and Counseling: Each transitioning Service member must go through mandatory pre-separation counseling to introduce them to the full range of programs and services available to them during their transition. While some pre-separation needs are common, other needs are identified for individual Service members resulting in immediate referral to installation resources to address such needs. The needs and referrals are documented in an official form that becomes part of the Service member’s permanent file.

                        • The CORE Curriculum, includes the following:

                        Ø Financial Planning: A workshop on financial planning provides Service members with the information and tools needed to identify financial responsibilities, obligations, and goals after separation from the military. Upon completing the



 

 

                        financial planning seminar, Service members will be prepared to build an integrated 12 month budget that reflects post-military employment, education, or training goals, ultimately helping to ensure their personal and family security. Instructors and financial planning staff will be available for follow-up counseling as requested by the Service member or as identified by the subject matter expert.

                        • Military Occupational Code (MOC) Crosswalk: The MOC Crosswalk is a module on translating military skills, training, and experience into credentialing appropriate for civilian jobs. Upon completing this module, Service members will have a file recording their military career experience and skills; translation of their military occupation experience to civilian sector skills; and identification of gaps in their training and/or experience that need to be filled to meet their personal goals. Members will be able to develop a clear line of sight between their military skills and training and career fields of their choice. This will permit a targeted job search and self-development by each Service member. Instructors and education and employment experts are available for further personal assistance.

                        • VA Benefits Briefings: Workshops on VA benefits that inform transitioning Service members of their Veterans benefits options. The VA modules include the VA Education Briefing (Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills, Pell Grants, and other Federal student aid), the VA Benefits briefing including the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) information and information about Veterans health, education, home loan guarantee, insurance, and other benefits for which they may be eligible. Service members will have face-to-face access to VA staff, facilitating personalized attention and service.

                        • Individual Transition Plan: Each Service member is required to develop an ITP which, step-by-step, helps the Service member determine the actions they must take to achieve their



 

 

                        career goals. Each plan will be tailored, and the documents required by the plan reviewed by the Commanders or their appointed representatives. Service members will deliver products to serve as evidence that they are indeed, prepared for their transition and postured to meet their post-separation goals.

                        • Optional Tracks consisting of:

                        Ø Education Track: Service members pursuing college education will receive guidance to prepare for the college application process. The Education Track addresses such topics as identifying one’s educational goals, education funding, and researching and comparing institutions. Upon completion of the education track, Service members will be prepared to submit an application to an academic institution, schedule a session with a counselor from the institution, and connect with a Student Veterans Organization on campus. Service members will be able to meet with installation education counselors for individualized preparation, as desired.

                        Ø Career Technical Training Track: Service members pursuing further technical training and job-ready skills will receive individualized guidance and help in selecting a training institute/college/program and technical fields. The Technical Training Track addresses such topics as selection of a reputable career and technical training program or college, the application process to a school from start to finish, and how to use certification finder Web tools and other Internet resources that identify licensed occupations, and a military occupational code translator. Similar to the Education Track, upon completing the Technical Training track, Service members will be prepared to submit an application to a technical training institute/college/program, schedule a session with a program counselor, and connect



 

 

                        with a veteran student organization at the facility or in the vicinity, as available. Technical training experts and VA vocational education counselors will be available to meet individually with Service members, as needed.

                        • Entrepreneurship Track: Service members pursuing self-employment in the private or non-profit sector will learn about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, the benefits and realities of entrepreneurship, and the steps toward business ownership. Upon completing the Entrepreneurship Track, Service members will have developed the initial components of their business plan. After completing an optional eight-week online course, Service members and Veterans will be connected with a small business owner to mentor and guide them through their business start-up. This is a tremendous effort by SBA and we are grateful for their commitment to our Service members.

                        • CAPSTONE: A singular event which verifies the Service member meets the relevant Career Readiness Standards to posture him or her for success after military service. For example, the Service members must provide evidence that they are, indeed, financially ready by preparing a budget for the first 12-months post-separation; they must show a resume or application to enter college or technical training institute; and the member must have a completed ITP. The CAPSTONE Event remains in development by the Military Services. We anticipate they will have CAPSTONE in place, piloted, and ready for implementation by the end of fiscal year 2013.

 

In November 2011, President Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, and we are on track to implement TAP-related provisions by November 21, 2012:

In accordance with the VOW Act, the new DOL Employment Workshop will be mandatory for nearly all Service members, including the Reserve and National Guard leaving



 

 

active duty. However the llaw does allow for exemptions. The VOW Act states that the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Veterans Affairs, may grant exemptions to the mandatory participation requirement for Service members unlikely to face major readjustment, health care, employment, or other challenges associated with the transition to civilian life. The exemptions policy is in development and clearly states no Service member is exempt from receiving Pre-separation Counseling and the VA Benefits Briefing.

The VOW Act very wisely mandates services for demobilizing Reservists and National Guard members as they face unique circumstances. Reservists and National Guard members in demobilizing units frequently return to dispersed geographic locations. Many return immediately to previous employment, but others are returning to homes hit by economic downturn; and still others return to college endeavors. The challenge of the Department and its partners is to meet these Service members’ needs while they are spread across the nation, separated from a military support network.

The VOW Act does not mandate participation in optional tracks. These are additional requirements to the VOW Act established by the Department, in collaboration with our interagency partners.

The primary delivery method for the components of the program will be in person, in a traditional “brick and mortar” classroom setting. Nonetheless, because of the geographic disbursement of some Service members, the nature of the Reserve Component, and the requirement for mandatory participation by all Service members in TAP, the Task Force will develop virtual delivery methods for Transition GPS. Such delivery methods will need to meet quality standards to help ensure equivalent outcomes to brick and mortar instruction.



 

 

To implement the Transition GPS, the Department conducted seven pilots of the CORE Curriculum and the revised DOL Employment Workshop this summer. The locations were:

Randolph Air Force Base

Jacksonville Naval Air Station

New York Army National Guard, Utica, NY

Fort Sill, OK

Norfolk Naval Station

Miramar Marine Corps Air Station

Fort Hood Army Reserve

On August 21-22, 2012, the Department piloted the Education Track at Randolph Air Force Base and the Entrepreneurship Track was piloted at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. The Department and VA anticipate piloting the Career Technical Track at Quantico Marine Corps Station this fall and a CAPSTONE proof of concept at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in December of this year.

Preliminary results indicate the piloted curriculums are hitting the mark. There has been incredible support by the Military Services, Commanders, The State Adjutant General, NY, installation staffs, and our interagency partners. The revised DOL Employment Workshop, financial planning seminar, and VA Benefits Briefing have received positive feedback. However preliminary feedback indicates that we must align the curriculum across all partner modules to ensure seamless learning experience for Service members. We will take a hard look at this to ensure the best use of Service members’ time.

The pilots have also shown us that Service members value the information, websites, skills building, and practical work they must accomplish. For example, the Financial Planning Seminar exercise of developing a 12-month post-military budget illustrated the importance of financial planning and preparedness post military life. Service members have to calculate and document how they will financially meet the first 12 months of post-separation costs for



 

 

expenditures such as healthcare, changes in the geographic cost of living, dependent care, taxes, and life insurance. In the pilots, Service members become very engaged in deliberate personal planning and preparation of their post military budget.

Additional lessons learned include:

                        • Service members are learning to translate their military skills into civilian language and to navigate the DOL Labor Market Information (LMI) web site to what employment opportunities exist in their geographical relocation areas.

                        • Commanders and installation leadership “hands-on” involvement are critical to the success of the pilots.

                        • Limiting the class to50 participants is a definite improvement and having classrooms equipped with audio-visual equipment and access to the internet enhances the learning environment.

 

To help us garner grassroots feedback, we developed on-line assessment tools for Service members, facilitators, and the team of observers who attended each pilot. The Department also set up a “TAP Auditor Sensing Session” as part of our pilot evaluation. We asked for volunteers who already completed the legacy TAP, but are still on Active Duty, to go through the redesigned TAP and give us feedback. Overall, the Transition GPS scored high marks for improved information and skills building.

The Department will complete the analysis of all pilot assessments by the end of September and will assemble a group of subject matter and functional experts to make adjustments to the curriculums by October. The modified Transition GPS Core curriculum will be in place by November 21. .



 

 

Military LifeCycle Transition Model

The measure of a successful transition does not reside solely on a Service member’s participation in the new Transition GPS. Rather it is a shared responsibility with military leadership at every level within the command structure that ensures that Service members receive opportunities to prepare for or meet career goals. In tandem there must be strong personal involvement by the Service member and his or her family. We will continue to find new ways to not only reach our Service members and provide useful information to them, but also strive to provide them with skills for the job search and other challenges they will encounter as they transition to civilian life. A virtual delivery model offers great potential to allow Service members to both learn and refresh skills. The Department and our partners are exploring this capability.

We learned that we cannot wait until the end of a Service member’s military career to help him or her succeed after separation. We have to start early and give our members the tools they need to develop personal goals, and reach milestones throughout their careers.

Therefore, starting in fiscal year 2014, the Department will migrate from our current TAP program, which occurs toward the end of a military career, to an innovative Military LifeCycle Transition Model that will start at the beginning of a Service members’ military career. The objective of the model is for transition to become a well-planned, organized progression that empowers Service members to make informed career decisions and take responsibility for advancing their personal goals. Service members will be made aware of the career readiness standards they must meet long before their separation. They will be engaged throughout their military careers in mapping and refining their Individual Development Plans to achieve their



 

 

military goals and their post-military goals for employment, education, career technical training, or starting their own business.

Throughout the Military Lifecycle, Service members will have various “touch points” that will be mapped into their military lifecycle. For example, at their first permanent duty station or first drilling weekend, they will initiate their Individual Transition Plan (ITP) – a document they will update throughout their military lifecycle. Also during their first 12 – 24 months, they will be able to complete the Transition GPS curriculums (MOC Crosswalk, Personal Financial Seminar, Education, Career Technical Training, or Entrepreneurship) at various stages of their military lifecycle-- well in advance of separation. Deployments provide yet another “touch point” in the Military LifeCycle when we can provide Service members and their families with budgeting and personal financial planning skills that are necessary to help them improve and maintain their financial footing during such a challenging time in their military lives.

When it is time for the member to separate, the ITP will migrate into the Individual Transition Plan -- a roadmap that will assist the Service member with their transition process.

The Military LifeCycle Model requires Service members to meet the same Career Readiness Standards (CRS) mentioned earlier and the CRS will be verified at a CAPSTONE Event prior to separation.

 

Credentialing and Licensing Task Force

The Department is leading a new Credentialing and Licensing Task Force that was directed by President Obama this May in order to address gaps between military occupational specialties and civilian licensing requirements. The Task Force will do the following:



 

 

                        • Identify military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs, such as aircraft maintenance, automotive mechanics, health care specialists, truck drivers, information technology professionals, and logisticians;

                        • Engage civilian, state, and local credentialing and licensing entities to close gaps between military training programs and credentialing and licensing requirements;

                        • Seek ways to partner with VA to help certain groups of veterans develop new skills in order to better compete in the private sector. For example, some infantry veterans – who have expertise that may not transfer readily to the business world – are acquiring information technology skills through a digital tutoring program developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

 

Our goal is to help private sector employers appreciate veterans’ valuable skills and experience, and to simplify the process for translating military skills and experience into private sector credentials. For our communities, there is an enormous return on our investment in these veterans. We began this effort with a focus on the manufacturing sector, and partnered with leading manufacturing credentialing agencies to enable up to 126,000 Service members to gain industry-recognized certifications for high-demand manufacturing jobs.

 

Conclusion

In summary, the end-state for the redesigned TAP will be manifested by a population of Service members who have the tools and resources to empower themselves to make informed career decisions, be competitive in the workforce, and continue to be positive contributors to their community as they transition to civilian life.



 

 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. On behalf of the men and women in the military today and their families, I thank you and the members of this Subcommittee for your steadfast support.