Preparing Military Service Members for Transition to Civilian Life

Our Nation should provide the best support possible to those Service members who keep our country free and strong, especially as they prepare to transition to civilian life.  To that end, the Department of Defense designed the Transition to Veterans Agency Priority Goal to address two of the biggest transition challenges facing our Service members:


  1. Evaluation and return to duty, separation, or retirement for Service members due to medical disability.
  2. Access to and participation in an effective program of pre-separation planning and education through evidence-based learning.


To meet these challenges, the Department of Defense (DoD) partners with  agencies across the federal government to  medical evaluation support is delivered through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), while planning and education support comes through the Transition Goals, Plans, Success (GPS) curriculum within the DoD's Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES)

Since 1949, the DoD has used the Disability Evaluation System (DES) to evaluate and return to duty, separate or retire Service members due to medical disability.  Each year, nearly 30,000 Service members are evaluated to determine whether their wound, injury or illness causes them to no longer be able to perform their required duties to remain in the military.


In 2007, DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) developed an Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) that improved the timeliness, accuracy, and consistency of providing both DoD and VA disability compensation for more than 180,000 wounded, ill, and injured Service members transitioning to veteran status.


The IDES provides transitioning Service members and their families the predictability they need to begin planning for life after service and the peace of mind that they are getting a fair and transparent evaluation.  With IDES, Service members are better informed on the disability process, can seek legal counsel to advise them during the process, and are also provided expected DoD and VA disability determinations before separation, which empowers them to make more informed decisions about their transition from military service.


Leveraging performance data, DoD, in collaboration with the Military Departments, continually evaluates the IDES to identify and implement program and process improvements.  The results were such that by September 2016, the average time from referral into IDES until the Service member received VA benefits notification or returned to duty was 225 days for Active Component members, with 82 percent of those cases meeting the 295-day goal.  Reserve Component members averaged 255 days, with 76 percent of those cases meeting the 305-day goal.  Throughout Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16), DoD has met the goal for completing the core DoD-specific portions of the IDES process.  Additionally, Service member IDES survey responses show that currently, 87 percent of Service members express satisfaction with their IDES experience.

Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

In order to ensure transitioning Service members are optimally prepared for transition to civilian life, the DoD has redesigned the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and instituted Career Readiness Standards (CRS), in part due to the passage of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act in 2011.  The redesigned TAP features a revised curriculum comprised of both core instructional blocks and individually-selected tracks for accessing higher education, obtaining career technical training, and entrepreneurship.  The Transition GPS curriculum is delivered by the five Military Services in conjunction with our civilian federal partner agencies (VA, DOL, DHS, ED, OPM and SBA).  CRS, an integral component of the TAP, ensure all Service members are “career ready” prior to separation, retirement, or release from active duty by requiring verification that they have been provided appropriate instruction, tools, and skills; as well as have completed career readiness activities, such as development of an Individual Transition Plan, and (where appropriate) have received a warm handover to partner agencies (e.g., to the VA, to provide essential benefits and services post-transition).  The Transition GPS curriculum is evaluated quarterly during participant assessments so that it may continually evolve to best meet Service member needs.


The DoD made the career readiness of Service members' transitioning to civilian life an Agency Priority Goal (APG) in FY14.  Elevating this work to an APG contributed to increased leadership attention and focus on the goal.  An emphasis on performance led DoD to refine the ways it tracks transitioning Service members completion of the Transition GPS program as they return to civilian life.  For example, at the beginning of FY14, VOW Act and CRS compliance were tracked using attendance data, which evolved into using a hybrid approach (both an Individual Transition Plan checklist and attendance data) by the end of FY14.  The DoD combined active duty and reserve component aggregate data in our reporting.  In FY15, the DoD began relying on the DD Form 2958 that required verification from Service members’ commanders (or their appointed designees) that all VOW Act and CRS requirements were met prior to Service members’ separation, retirement, or release from active duty; and that the compliance rate reflects only the known eligible Service members (i.e., those for whom a DD Form 2958 was received by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC)).  The APG performance goals for VOW Act and CRS compliance were separated for the active duty and reserve component to allow more complete and accurate tracking of the APG.  Additionally, the DoD continues to work towards improving the quality of data related to the APG.  On November 7, 2016, DoD deployed an electronic form (eForm) enterprise database, which will further streamline the APG data collection processes.


As APG performance metrics indicate, the net result of this effort is that Service members receiving warm handover to appropriate partner agencies prior to separation from active duty continue to increase steadily.  As data tracking methods have become more precise and sophisticated, the quality of data shared with leadership has also improved. For example, at the end of FY14, results both active duty and reserve component Service members was 34% for CRS and 63% for VOW Act transition activities.  With more involved command and senior leadership support, improved data tracking, and accountability using known verified DD Form 2958 data received by DMDC, VOW Act and CRS was more than 85% for both known eligible active duty and reserve component Service members by the end of FY15.  Further, VOW Act and CRS was more than 90% for both known eligible active duty and reserve component Service members by the end of FY16 (see figure below).