Lawmakers on Capitol Hill want service members to get more training for civilian life before transitioning out of the military.
Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives this week seeks to boost participation in specialized workshops offered through the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. The bill, introduced by Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., would require service members to opt out of the additional training provided in addition to the program’s core curriculum, rather than opt in.
“In my view, the core curriculum is necessary, but not sufficient, to enable most departing (service members) to successfully transition to the civilian world,” Murphy said in her speech introducing the legislation. Transitioning service members “should supplement the core curriculum with at least one of the two-day workshops, so they can receive training tailored to their specific personal and professional goals — whether that involves going to school, learning a trade, or starting a business.”
The bill, called the Better Access to Technical Training, Learning and Entrepreneurship for Servicemembers Act, has the backing of Republican Reps. Jack Bergman of Michigan, a retired Marine Corps general, and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, as well as Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Veteran service organizations, including Veterans of Foreign Wars and Student Veterans of America, have also expressed their support.
“The VFW views the TAP program as an integral part of preparing these young men and women for the next step in life,” VFW legislative director Carlos Fuentes said in a statement. “Making supplemental TAP classes mandatory for all transitioning (service members) would ensure they obtain skills to take full advantage of the benefits and services they have earned.”
TAP currently offers three tracks that transitioning service members can pursue to dig deeper into higher education, career technical training opportunities or how to start a business. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, only 15 percent participate in these additional, two-day workshops.
Ryan Gallucci, a spokesman for the VFW, told Military Times in an email that the VFW’s interactions with service members on military installations reinforce the report’s findings. When asked why they don’t attend these workshops, offered over a two-day period, many told the organization they had work and time demands or that they didn’t know about the additional training.
“One of the most jarring comments came from an enlisted Marine who wrote ‘the command did not find me suitable to participate,’” Gallucci said. “Another soldier also wrote that ‘my unit was not aware of the voluntary tracks and I was not able to plan in advance.’”
Murphy spokesman Javier Hernandez said Thursday the congresswoman will likely seek to have the legislation added to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.
The proposed legislation is a good first step to reforming TAP, said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for SVA, which has been advocating for changes to the program. SVA’s president also wrote a statement in support of Murphy’s proposal.
“The core curriculum is good, but ultimately I think the tracks themselves additionally need some improvement,” Hubbard said. “It’s not a perfect step, but it’s a very, very strong first step to making that program better.”