Veteran Benefits: Outside Opportunities for Marines
The Pentagon’s current template for drawing down the size of the military calls for a reduction in the Marine Corps’ overall end strength. The recent widening of the Voluntary Enlisted Early Release Program (VEERP) window has led the Corps to expect between 5,500 and 6,500 Marines to separate early from active service in fiscal year 2013 under that program, and additional programs offering financial incentives – the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) and Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) – are designed to further thin the ranks. Overall, 41,000 Marines will reach their end of active service (EAS) dates in the coming fiscal year.
Public and private organizations across the country have created a generous package of benefits and programs for these service members-turned-veterans, initiatives that can do much more than merely ease the transition into civilian life: They place a number of important goals – completing a postsecondary education, receiving valuable job skills, purchasing or refinancing a home, or ensuring the long-term security of one’s family – well within reach.
Chief among these organizations, of course, is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – but by the VA’s own estimation, only about 36 percent of the veterans who are eligible for VA benefits and other programs sign up to receive them – and among that small minority, 68 percent receive only one service offered by the department. It doesn’t have to be that way: Usually, honorable and general discharges qualify a veteran for most benefits, and benefits are generally available to those who have served 24 months of continuous active duty or the “full period” for which the service member was called or ordered to active duty. Several exceptions to this rule exist, and many benefits – such as those offered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill – are prorated based on one’s period of service. The VA’s Veteran Benefits Administration is the organization to consult about eligibility questions; online, the most convenient first stop is probably the eBenefits portal (www.ebenefits.va.gov).
For all the bureaucratic difficulties service members and veterans sometimes encounter with the U.S. government, the fact remains that few American employers – bolstered by the efforts of numerous public- and private-sector partners – offer as much support to current and former employees. To ensure there isn’t money left on the table, it’s important to stay informed and up to date about the opportunities available to help Marines and their families work, learn, and thrive after active service.
The bad news: According to the July 2012 report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era or “Gulf War-era II” veterans (8.9 percent) is higher than the national average of 8.2 percent. The good news: That disparity is much smaller than it was even a year ago, in part thanks to the efforts of dozens of public and private organizations that have placed a premium on the knowledge, skills, and character of former active-duty military personnel.
In the summer of 2012, President Barack Obama announced an overhaul of the outdated Transition Assistance Program (TAP), to provide more personalized assistance to service members in achieving their goals after active service; he also called on Congress to create a $1 billion Veterans Job Corps to put veterans to work over the next five years on federal projects.
While newly separated service members wait to see what develops from these efforts, they can avail themselves of a litany of programs designed to connect them to employment opportunities. For Marines, a solid first step would be to consult Marine For Life (www.marineforlife.org). An official Corps program, Marine For Life is a professional network of Marines working to ease the transition into civilian life and to provide continued support and assistance to Marine veterans. Another excellent source for career information is the employment section of the VA’s eBenefits links, which includes job boards, training and career planning, resources for military spouses, and small business assistance. Other programs include:
• The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (www.dol.gov/vets) conducts a number of initiatives, including the Gold Card initiative (www.dol.gov/vets/goldcard.html), which provides unemployed post-9/11 veterans with intensive job preparation and placement services.
• The Department of Education’s Troops-to-Teachers program (www2.ed.gov/programs/troops), which funds the recruitment, training, and support of former active-duty service members as teachers in high-poverty schools.