Military and Veterans' Benefits:
Enhanced Services Could Improve Transition Assistance for Reserves and National Guard
GAO-05-544: Published: May 20, 2005. Publicly Released: May 20, 2005.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 mandated that GAO review whether the transition assistance program (TAP) is meeting the needs of service members leaving the military. GAO (1) assessed TAP administration, including program participation, and (2) identified actions agencies are taking to improve TAP and challenges that remain. TAP serves military personnel with at least 180 days of active duty who separate or retire and members of the Reserves and National Guard who are released from active duty, a process termed demobilization. Recently, the Reserves and National Guard have been called to active duty in greater numbers than at any other time since the Korean War.
Transition assistance is intended to help service members successfully adjust to civilian life after serving in the military. Jointly administered by the Departments of Defense (DOD), Labor (DOL) and Veterans Affairs (VA), the four components of TAP are coordinated through meetings of agency TAP managers and interagency agreements. Both the method of delivery and the level of participation may vary, with participation rates highest for the mandatory preseparation counseling. Because they demobilize within days after they return from overseas, generally members of the Reserves and National Guard may get similar information but not the time to participate fully in TAP. At demobilization they may complete their preseparation counseling forms as a group without individual attention; get 45 minutes of briefing on veterans' benefits rather than a half-day; and receive no employment preparation. Participation of service members in the Disabled TAP component is not known, because VA does not track this information. The federal agencies have taken actions to improve TAP's content and increase participation among full-time active duty military personnel but face challenges serving Reserve and National Guard members because of their rapid demobilization. To improve content, the agencies have updated, or plan to update, their manuals, forms, and other materials, and DOL is assessing its employment workshop curriculum using focus groups and survey data. To increase participation, DOL and VA provide some employment workshops and veterans' benefits briefings overseas, and DOD is considering mandating participation in all components. While the agencies have not assessed when and where to offer TAP for members of the Reserves and National Guard, DOL has pilot programs in three states that will offer employment workshops after the members return home.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: DOD's May 2006 report to Congress described plans for Web-based transition assistance that were implemented in 2007 for all service members, including National Guard and Reserve. Both the Web and a 24/7 call center can be accessed after demobilization. Also, DOL prepared a 4.5 hour employment training module specifically for the National Guard and Reserves that has been used to train its workshop facilitators since March 2007, and has plans to roll out additional modules in January 2008. VA has provided information on vocational education and rehabilitation opportunities in 78,000 compact discs sent to the services, including the Reserve and Guard. In 2009, VETS reported that all the modules were rolled out in 2008 and 2009.
Recommendation: To ensure that members of the Reserve and National Guard have the opportunity to benefit from transition assistance, DOD, in conjunction with DOL and VA, should determine what demobilizing Reserve and National Guard members need to make a smooth transition and explore the logistical options for providing that assistance, such as opportunities for employment workshops before or after their demobilization and providing timely information about the need to apply for certain benefits while still on active duty.
Agency Affected: Department of Defense
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In fiscal year 2006, VA implemented a system on its Intranet to track the number and location of sessions held for both the disabled program (DTAP) and VA's briefings for the transition assistance program (TAP). The system also tracks the number of attendees, distinguishing Reserve and National Guard members from other service members. The system is described in VBA Letter 20-05-63 dated November 21, 2005.
Recommendation: To develop more accurate program statistics, VA should keep track of service members who attend the disabled transition assistance program to ensure that adequate follow-up is possible with this population, which may be in particular need of the services.
Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs