Former President Barack Obama once noted that the U.S. has the finest fighting force in the history of the world. Its average age of enlistment is under 21, and the average length of enlistment is 15 years.
However, in startling contrast, the length of time the military prepares enlisted service members to reenter civilian life is just five days.
Currently, the Transition Assistance Program provides a five-day seminar designed to "enable transitioning service members to meet career readiness by DOD." This is a positive start, but with only five days to prepare for an entirely new life — one without the structure, schedules, feedback, camaraderie, and sense of purpose of military life — it simply isn't enough.
It is not only that lack of employment when a servicemember separates from the military, but the sense of being disconnected — the transition itself.
There is help out there for those getting out of the military. For example, TAOnline.com provides a detailed, guided manual for each service member and a consultant to bridge the change. But I propose going much further by creating a Pre-Retirement Transition Program for active, enlisted personnel in their last six months of service. This will give those separating from the military time to engage in proactive planning around housing, budgeting, location of key services, and job preparedness.
With the concurrent creation of a centralized information bank, veterans would be able to quickly access programs and opportunities that would match their needs.
California's 48th District, where I am running for Congress, is home to 32,000 civilian veterans located within Orange County, which is the fourth largest veteran community in California. Veterans are generally capable, talented individuals who have a strong work ethic and who gave their heart and soul to protect the America we hold dear. They should not face unemployment, let alone homelessness, for mere lack of assistance in their transition to civilian life.
Employers can make a difference, and they can also benefit in the process. Several years ago, I successfully negotiated an agreement between the Army PaYS partnership and a Fortune 500 company to guarantee job interviews for qualified veterans. The program has now completed its tenth year and has resulted in the hiring of hundreds of skilled veterans. This is the kind of concrete plan that needs to expand across Orange County and the country.
By engaging the partnership of companies across all industries and offering training to help veterans showcase their valuable armed forces skills in leadership, security, mechanics, and technology (one of Orange County's top growth industries), we can effectively help veterans transition into the civilian workforce with speed, certainty, and respect.
Michael Kotick is a Democratic candidate for Congress in California's 48th District.
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