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Pentagon improves services for transitioning soldiers, families
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WASHINGTON - The Defense Department recently merged two military support programs into one as part of efforts to better address departing service members' financial and transition needs, a senior Pentagon official told U.S. legislators May 16.
The previously separate Financial Readiness and Transition Assistance programs were combined in March to form the new Office of Personal Finance and Transition, Jane Burke, principal director for military community and family policy, said in testimony before members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Veterans Affairs subcommittee on economic opportunity.
"Returning to private life after serving in the military is a very complex undertaking," Burke told legislators. "To assist them in doing so, we must empower our service members with the tools and information they need to develop individual solutions to the challenges they may face as they return to civilian life."
The merger of the financial and transition assistance programs was made in recognition "that financial readiness, military and veterans benefits, and transition assistance are closely linked to one another and must be addressed as a whole," Burke explained. This, she said, is an example of the Pentagon's desire to improve programs that assist transitioning service members and their families.
Whether having served on active duty or in the reserve components, transitioning service members' and families' primary goals "are finding a job, changing careers, enrolling in higher education, and ultimately improving their economic quality of life," Burke said.
The Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Labor departments have partnered over the past decade to assist service members' return to civilian life, Burke observed.
All three organizations, Burke said, share responsibility for the transition assistance program's four key components:

• Mandatory pre-separation counseling for departing active-duty, National Guard or reserve members, is performed by service members' individual service branch. Service members are introduced to information about employment opportunities and how to go about finding a job. Members looking for jobs or a career change are encouraged to visit and register with the One-Stop Career Center nearest their residence once they return home.
• Attendance at Department of Labor-sponsored transition assistance program employment workshops is voluntary for active-duty service members and spouses, except for mandatory participation by Marine Corps members. Service members receive information about labor market conditions, individual skills assessment, how to write effective resumes, proper interviewing techniques, and methods of searching for jobs.
• Veterans Affairs benefits briefings are voluntary for active-duty service members. These briefings address education and training, healthcare, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, disability benefits, burial benefits, and dependents' and survivors' benefits. Demobilizing National Guard and reserve-component members receive a VA briefing that includes information on the Disabled Transition Assistance Program.
• Participation in the Disabled Transition Assistance Program managed by Veterans Affairs is voluntary for active-duty members. This program is for service members and veterans who have or suspect they have a service-connected disability or an injury or illness that was aggravated by military service. DTAP addresses re-employment, rapid access to employment, employment through long-term services, independent living services, and self-employment. DTAP also addresses other issues such as medical, dental, optical, mental health treatment, special adapted housing, veterans' centers, vocational/educational counseling, and special hiring authorities for federal employment.

The Defense Department has established a goal to have 85 percent of separating active-duty, National Guard and reserve members attend transition assistance program and disabled transition program seminars, Burke said.
"To meet this goal, we have tasked the services to allow service members to attend these sessions so they have access to the employment resources they need to help them transition into the workforce or into an educational institution," Burke explained.
When the transition assistance program was first developed in 1990, it was not designed with the needs of the National Guard and reserves in mind, Burke said. The 2007 launch of the Web portal addressed those concerns, she said.
TurboTAP "allows each service member, regardless of component, to obtain a lifelong account and a tailored individual transition plan based on their transition needs, which can also connect them to information on military and veterans benefits, many of which have significant cash value," Burke explained. Examples of such programs include the Montgomery GI Bill, the Thrift Savings Plan and the Savings Deposit Program, she said.
TurboTAP better meets the needs of National Guard, reserve and active-component service members and their families "because the Web site gives them the tools to connect and access the information to meet their needs when they are ready - present or future," Burke said. Military OneSource and Military Home Front, she noted, are two other Defense Department-endorsed Web sites that, along with TurboTAP, contain important transitional, financial and benefits information for separating service members.
Service members and their families have sacrificed much in support of the global war on terror, Burke said. Therefore, she said, it is the department's duty "to provide our troops with the decision-making tools they need to help them with the key financial and transition decision points" to assist them in making career and economic security plans.
The new office of personal finance and transition in partnership with other federal and private agencies "will get us there," Burke said.
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