Every year, approximately 200,000 soldiers leave the military and reenter civilian life. It’s a transition that can be exciting or hard, scary or exhilarating — and often all of the above. According to 2019 data from the Pew Research Center, this transition can be a significant struggle, with 32% percent of post-9/11 veterans saying the transition back to civilian life was somewhat difficult, and 16% calling it very difficult.
As you transition to civilian life, it may feel like shedding a clear sense of purpose in favor of an uncertain world that does not understand your experiences. However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Transition Assistance Program (TAP) can help you plan your next steps. Here’s how to leverage the program and seamlessly transition into the next phase of your life.
What Is the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)?
The TAP combines the resources of the Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VA to support soldiers, veterans, reserves and military spouses as they transition to civilian life. It includes a comprehensive curriculum to educate you about your military benefits. Most components of the program are mandatory and integrated into your separation process, but you are responsible for finding the classes near you.
You can find an in-person class or workshop here or view online course options here. The TAP begins at least 365 days before separation from the military, though the military recommends retirees begin the process two years before their departure.
What to Expect from the Transition Assistance Program
The Transition Assistance Program is a formalized process that moves through specific stages based on how close you are to military separation. It includes:
You begin the process by meeting with a TAP counselor, during which you will complete a self-assessment and initiate an Individual Transition Plan. Next, you will attend pre-separation counseling, during which you will receive information about benefits and entitlements. The military encourages spouses and caregivers to attend counseling as well.
DoD Transition Day
Following pre-separation counseling, you will attend the DoD Transition Day, which includes the following trainings:
- Managing Your Transition: This gives you an overview of the transition process, including a discussion of how the transition can affect family life.
- Financial Planning: This discusses the financial aspects of transition, including the new costs you might incur and how civilian income translates to military income in terms of cost of living. You can also get help developing a budget and spending plan.
- Military Occupational Code Crosswalk: This session teaches you how to translate the skills you learned in the service to civilian skills. It can help with developing a resume and preparing for job interviews.
VA Benefits and Services
This one-day briefing guides you through your benefits and encourages you to explore the specific benefits you might need.
Employment Fundamentals of Career Transition
This Department of Labor program offers a workshop that helps you identify the skills you have, those you need to develop and how you can market your military experience.
You can choose two days of special instruction on topics such as entrepreneurship, vocational training, education and employment. You must attend at least one track, but can attend multiple sessions if you choose.
This is the final event, during which your commanding officers verify the completion of the TAP. You must complete this no later than 90 days before you leave active duty.
The TAP gives back what you put into it. Enroll early and benefit from the wisdom of service members who understand the challenges of transition.
Getting the Most from the TAP
Some soldiers view the TAP as a formality; one more hoop to jump through before leaving the service. Take this opportunity to develop your transition plan as you move through the program. This empowers you to assess how your military benefits will support your goals. For example, if you hope to attend school after separation, use your time in the program to educate yourself about your VA education benefits.
Here are a few strategies to help you independently assess your options and begin shaping a post-military plan:
- Talk to civilian friends and family about their career paths. This will help you learn about the options that await you outside the military.
- Connect with military friends who have recently left the service. Ask them what worked for them, what didn’t and what advice they would give to a newly retired soldier.
- Think about your interests and the talents you used in the military. Then, research careers consistent with those skills and talents.
- Educate yourself about various career requirements. Although your military service helped you develop a wide range of skills, civilian jobs often require specific education, even if you have immense experience.
- Research military-friendly employers and schools. Where do service members tend to land after the service? Why? Understanding how various institutions might serve your needs can help you narrow down career and educational paths.
- Talk to a counselor. This can help you process your emotions about leaving the service and identify potential career paths going forward.
- Check your benefits. You may be eligible for additional transition services or more education funding than you realize. Checking your benefits begins with visiting the VA’s eBenefits page.
- Start building your professional network. Your network can connect you to jobs, resources and support when you leave the service.
The TAP is mandatory for all service members, but how much you get from the program depends on how much you invest. Go into the experience with a clear plan. Ask plenty of questions so you can complete the capstone knowing what comes next in your transition to civilian life. You can also get one-on-one employment assistance via the Department of Labor here.
Choosing a Veteran-Friendly School
Veterans bring value to a campus environment, providing a strong sense of duty, a willingness to help others and an immense range of skills that serve them well in their classes and careers. Many schools do not understand what veterans offer or know how to make the most of these unique attributes. This is why it’s so important to choose a school that caters to the needs of transitioning soldiers.
Some hallmarks of a good school include:
- An emphasis on adult learners, including flexible scheduling.
- Financial aid assistance from counselors who understand military benefits.
- Transition support for soldiers, ideally through a veterans center.
- Advocacy for and recognition of current and past service members.
SNU offers an innovative Veterans Educational Transition Success Center staffed by people who understand the challenges and triumphs of military life. We believe in the power of community and the value of support. We offer career counseling, financial guidance and student advocacy through our Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Salute Honor Society (SALUTE) and Student Veterans of America. At SNU, you matter. Your experience counts, and we are here to help you figure out what comes next.