Veterans

Next step for TAP: More civilian employers

Federal administrators have spent the last four years reworking military transition programs to better prepare departing troops for jobs in the civilian workforce.

The next step is to actually get veterans into those jobs.

Officials say the upcoming focus for military transition assistance programs will be creating connections to civilian employers, in an effort to more quickly link separating service members with eager employers.

"Our last big piece is to institutionalize these pipelines into the workforce," said Susan Kelly, director of the Pentagon's Transition to Veterans Program Office.

Lawmakers and outside observers say that emphasis is overdue. While they praised Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor department officials for improving transition classes, they worry that existing bureaucracies too often are hampering efforts by private companies to directly access and hire those veterans.

The issue is expected to become more problematic in coming years.

Unemployment among the latest generation of servicemembers has fallen to eight-year lows in recent months, progress hailed as wider acceptance of veterans in the civilian workforce.

VA officials estimate that roughly 1 million troops will leave the ranks in the next five years, and more than half of those will face some period of unemployment during the transition.

Congress mandated back in 2011 that all departing troops attend transition classes, and a coalition of government agencies has worked to update and refine the programs since then. That includes new focus on resume writing, job interviews and skills transitions.

In testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Kelly said roughly 226,000 troops have gone through those programs in 2015, with most calling the experience a positive step forward.

But officials with Coca-Cola told senators that even though participants receive better job preparation, they don't get direct connection to employers who could help bridge the gap from classroom lessons to real-world applications.

"Transitioning personnel are often unable to formally discuss what job opportunity would constitute the best fit and which companies offer that type of job," said Elizabeth Voticky, a hiring executive for Coca-Cola.

American Legion officials added that too much of the transition classwork is theoretical, and needs to take more of a hands-on, practical approach. And U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials said employers unfamiliar with military bureaucracy still struggle to find ways to connect with any existing programs.

Administrators promised they are working on fixes to that, and on way to better measure veterans success after vets go through the transition programs.

Lawmakers said they will be watching.

"I think this nation is failing to address the transition problem of veterans as they return home from the military," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the committee's ranking Democrat "Seamless transition requires getting it right the first time, rather than waiting to reach out and inform veterans after they have returned to their hometowns across America."

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