334 Cannon House Office Building
Good morning Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. It is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss the Coast Guard’s Transition Assistance Program.
Transition assistance was established for Coast Guard military personnel in October 1994 to comply with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1995 (Public Law 103-337). This law requires that all separating and retiring service members have access to transition assistance services and that members who are involuntarily separated receive specific benefits. Military personnel from all of the Armed Forces share similar needs when transitioning from active duty to civilian life. As such, many features of the Coast Guard’s Transition Assistance Program are similar to what the Department of Defense (DoD) provides its transitioning members. There are, however, some important differences between the needs of transitioning Coast Guard personnel and their DoD counterparts that should be highlighted.
When compared to the other Armed Forces, the Coast Guard is relatively small in size and has broad geographic dispersion. As discussed below, this has an impact on the manner in which our Transition Assistance Program is implemented and delivered. In addition, many of the skills and experience our Coast Guard personnel acquire over the course of their careers, ranging from administrative, acquisition, and human resource, to law enforcement, maritime safety and security, and environmental response, are often considered readily transferrable to the civilian workforce. Finally, although some Coast Guard members have served overseas in war zones, the Coast Guard does not have the same proportion of combat veterans as the other Armed Forces. All of these factors are considered in developing and delivering a Transition Assistance Program that best serves Coast Guard members.
The Coast Guard understands that irrespective of the differences between the other Armed Forces and the Coast Guard, providing a robust Transition Assistance Program to our members is critical. As such, we have taken steps to ensure our men and women are receiving the support they need to make their transition successful. Currently, the Coast Guard provides mandatory, pre-separation counseling for our transitioning members, and we strongly encourage attendance at a Transition Assistance Program seminar for each member within a two year window prior to separation or retirement.
The Transition Assistance Program begins with pre-separation counseling at the unit level. Each unit Commanding Officer is required to ensure separating and retiring members, and their families, receive the transition benefits and services to which they are entitled. A Command representative is required to meet with all members separating, retiring, or entering the Disability Evaluation System approximately 180 days before separation and not later than 15 days after official notification of separation. As directed under Coast Guard policy, pre-separation counseling must occur at least 90 days prior to separation. During pre-separation counseling, the command representative assists members in achieving educational, training, and employment objectives, as well as those of the spouse, if applicable. Depending on the desires expressed by the member during pre-separation counseling, the Command either directs the member to the appropriate office for delivery of services, or provides additional counseling on specific benefits and programs as requested.
Formal Coast Guard Transition Assistance Program seminars are delivered at each of our 13 Health, Safety and Work-Life Regional Practices across the United States. Each of these designated transition sites features a Regional Manager who is responsible for managing overall individual and family support programs, and one Transition and Relocation Manager who coordinates the Transition Assistance Program for their area of responsibility (AOR). The Coast Guard typical AOR encompasses several states. Each Transition and Relocation Manager is a certified International Job and Career Coach and is generally responsible for the Transition Assistance Program, Relocation Assistance Program, and the Spouse Employment Assistance Program.
Coast Guard Transition Assistance Program seminars have been developed in coordination with DoD, Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Veterans Affairs. These seminars provide instruction on skills identification, résumé preparation, interview techniques, and veteran entitlements, and are typically five days in length. The first three days include the core curriculum focused on the job search process, which is provided by DOL, or is based on the DOL curriculum. The other two days feature presentations on Veterans’ benefits including health care services and enrollment and educational opportunities. The Coast Guard transitions approximately 3,000 active duty and reserve members annually. Over the past several years, about 1,600 – or just over half of these members – have elected to attend a transition seminar to obtain information on resources for employment, educational and Veterans’ benefits.
To comply with the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 by the required date of November 21, 2012, the Coast Guard is developing plans to increase the number of scheduled seminars we offer. Currently, the number of participants who attend Coast Guard seminars can range from 50 participants in some locations to as few as 15. Moving forward, it will be critical for us to ensure all transitioning members have access to the information presented at these seminars. However, the dispersed location of Coast Guard units presents unique challenges for the Coast Guard. To address these challenges, the Coast Guard is exploring alternative delivery methods for members that cannot physically attend a seminar. These options will ensure that the information from Transition Assistance Program seminars can be provided using other methods, such as members receiving direct counseling with the Transition and Relocation Manager through a “virtual” environment, or through other electronic media. The Coast Guard is currently working with DoD, DOL and the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive virtual solution for members who, for whatever reason, cannot attend an actual seminar in person.
The goal of the Coast Guard’s Transition Assistance Program is to assist service members and their families in making an informed and effective transition from military service to civilian life. An integral aspect in this vital effort is to ensure separating members are made aware of, and have access to, the numerous programs and services available to assist them in the transition process. In an effort to continually improve our Transition Assistance Program and meet the needs of our transitioning members, we look forward to continuing the positive working relationship with DoD, DOL and the Department of Veterans Affairs in sharing new ideas and tools.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.