In congressional testimony supporting government efforts to assist returning warriors in the transition back to civilian life, The American Legion has offered a number of suggestions to improve the process.
The Legion's written statement was presented to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The subcommittee conducted a hearing June 2 concerning the federal government's Transition Assistance Program (TAP).
TAP was established to meet the needs of separating servicemembers, by offering job-search assistance and related services. The law creating TAP established a partnership among the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Transportation, and the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), to give employment and training information to servicemembers within 180 days of their separation or retirement.
In the statement, Mark Walker, deputy director of the Legion's Economic Commission, said, in part, "The American Legion strongly believes that updating TAP is vital to transitioning servicemembers finding success in the civilian work force. TAP has not been updated in 17 years. There should be an urgency to revamp TAP, due to the ultracompetitive global marketplace.
"In numerous cases brought to the attention of The American Legion by veterans and other sources," Walker continued, "many returning servicemembers have lost jobs, promotions, businesses, homes and cars and, in some cases, become homeless."
A great number of the unemployed veterans, said Walker, are returning National Guard and reserve troops. He referred to a 2005 GAO (General Accountability Office) report stating that TAP is not made available to all Guard and reserve personnel.
The chief problem, said the GAO, is a lack of time during demobilization, which is often completed in five days. Walker said that in light of this, the Legion recommends that TAP be incorporated into a Guard or reserve unit's training schedule months before activation.
The Legion also favors a TAP briefing (that includes spouses), conducted during a unit's organization day; a "TAP weekend," set aside either before or after a deployment; TAP sessions while units are preparing to move into theater; and the extension for a day or two of the demobilization period, to include TAP seminars.
Aside from providing increased accessibility, "this program needs to become more appealing and pertinent to transitioning servicemembers," Walker concluded. Further, he said, "The American Legion recommends that performance measures and follow-up surveys be developed, to ensure that transitioning servicemembers are receiving the appropriate information in order to successfully obtain meaningful employment once discharged."
The Legion's Economic Division conducts numerous veterans-employment assistance programs of its own throughout the year, in the form of career fairs and, for entrepreneurial veterans, small-business workshops.