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Transition assistance programs good for troops

NEW ORLEANS (AFPN) -- Transition assistance programs do a lot more than help servicemembers make a successful departure from the military. A top Department of Defense personnel expert called such programs good for recruiting and retention and for U.S. economic well-being.

Charles Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, told attendees at the DOD Worldwide Transition Assistance Program Training Conference here they help form departing servicemembers' opinions of how the military treated them. That alone directly affects recruiting, he said.

More than 450 military, civilian and contractor transition assistance professionals are meeting to discuss ways to improve their programs in the future and learn about the impacts of recently passed legislation.

"How you and how their services and the department of defense treat them as they complete their service will leave a lasting impression," Abell said. "Your actions and attitudes directly impact how a veteran feels about service and what recommendations he or she makes to ... neighbors, friends and relatives."

This is especially important in a society that does not have the strong ties to the military that the post-World War II generation did, he said. Today's young people just do not have the same tendency or inclination to serve, he said.

Abell said transition assistance programs impact retention as well. He described Army and Navy studies that ironically discovered the sooner servicemembers are introduced to the transition assistance program, the more likely they are to re-enlist.

Military transition assistance programs even help improve America's economy, Abell said. He explained Fortune 500 companies are strongly attracted to departing members for their strong work ethic and drug-free lifestyles.

"A successful transition...is good for the nation because our economic well-being is driven by a vibrant work force," he said.

Since 1997, about 200,000 military members have gone through transition counseling in a number of different DOD programs, he said. In this same time frame, the DOD has reduced by nearly $100 million the amount it transfers to the Labor Department to cover unemployment benefits for separating servicemembers.

Abell explained his familiarity with the transition assistance program. As a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he helped push through legislation that made the program a permanent benefit. And as a career soldier, he went through an early version of the program when he neared retirement.

"The program that I went through does not resemble the quality product that you all conduct every day," he said. Still, he said, the program he went through was "helpful" and "enlightening."

Above all, transition assistance programs are vital because the nation needs to treat its military members right.

"It's the commitment of the country that requires us to do the transition program, and it's the value of the program that keeps it going," Abell said.

"Now more than ever before, we must ensure that we take care of the department's greatest asset, and that's the young men and women who wear the uniform and serve our country," he said.