The Bayonet

Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2014

Transition success starts with Army Career Alumni Program

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Transitioning from the military can be both scary and confusing for military members and their Families. It was no different for my Family when we transitioned to civilian life in 2003.

I was a 10-year Air Force veteran when I transitioned, I knew I would need to find housing, develop a budget, and most importantly, I needed to find a job. Back then, the Transition Assistance Program was in its infancy. There was a gap between my military training and certifications and the civilian requirements for the same position.

Finding work was easy, but finding meaningful employment was a challenge. The job search process was simply horrible, sending out hundreds of applications with little effect. Then there were the periods of unemployment that took its toll on me and my Family.

After a brief break in service I decided to put the uniform back on.

Today, I am in the Army on active duty and facing that all too intimidating transition again, only this time I am not overwhelmed with uncertainty, but excited about my future. Many things have changed since the last time I transitioned into civilian life.

President Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act Nov. 21, 2011. VOW is Veterans Opportunity to Work and the act provides business owners with a $5,600 tax credit for each veteran hired. Business owners who hire a wounded warrior or service member with a service connected disability are eligible for a $9,600 tax credit. The act gives veterans a competitive edge in today's job market.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the unemployment rate for men who are veterans has declined from 6.9 percent in 2012 to 6.5 percent in 2013. The decline for women who are veterans is even more impressive, dropping the unemployment rate from 8.3 percent in 2012 to 6.9 percent in 2013. Each service member discharged from Fort Benning has to attend the Army Career Alumni Program.

The process begins with a two-hour pre-separation counseling followed by a mandatory five-day TAP class. The class can be taken for five consecutive days or broken down into individual classes.

"Not every unit can afford to lose a Soldier for five days in a row, so we work with the Soldier to schedule the classes around his or her calendar," said Carl Hopp, with ACAP. "We also highly encourage Family members and spouses to attend the ACAP services. Every service we offer the service member, we also offer to military spouses. As a matter of fact, my counselors would love to see more participation from Family members."

The TAP class includes the Military Occupational Specialty Crosswalk, Department of Labor workshop and financial planning.

The class begins with the Military Occupational Specialty Crosswalk. Soldiers learn how to turn MOS skills into civilian occupations or apprenticeship programs. The Soldier receives a Verification of Military Experience and Training document, which is an overview of the service member's career. Its primary purpose is to assist service members with completing job applications and resumes and it contains all duty positions held, complete with job descriptions and any military training you received. In some cases it can be used to support the awarding of civilian training or academic credit. In my case it not only documented my Army career, but it also contained everything from my Air Force career.

The Department of Labor provides an extensive employment workshop for separating Soldiers. Service members learn how to write a resume and brush up on interview techniques. The class also has access to veteran friendly employment databases.

During the financial portion of the class, Soldiers learn how to assess their net worth, develop a budget and create a spending plan. The class has access to a certified financial counselor who provides individual financial counseling. Service members work closely with their counselors to develop an Individual Transition Plan.

A Veterans Affairs representative is available to help Soldiers understand their benefits, disability claims, guaranteed home loans and education benefits. The representative will also brief members on veteran service organizations and the services they provide.

In addition to the TAP class, separating Soldiers can take classes at Classes offered are Dress for Success, Family Concerns, Interview Techniques, ITP Review, Salary Negotiations, Skills Development, Special Issues and the Value of a Mentor.

"The program is now more attuned to recognize the challenges Soldiers are facing during transition. Soldiers or Family members who don't fully participate and take full advantage of the program are doing themselves a disservice," Hopp said.

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