Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit stand in formation aboard the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, steaming in the Indian Ocean on May 15. Beginning Oct. 1, many first- and second-term enlisted Marines will be allowed to leave service up to a year early. (Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam / Marine Corps)
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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Marine Corps has launched its revised early out program for fiscal 2013, allowing eligible enlisted volunteers to leave the service up to a year ahead of their scheduled exit date.
Until now, the Voluntary Enlisted Early Release Program, or VEERP, allowed Marines to separate only up to six months before their end-of-active-service date. But with a drawdown of the active-duty force scheduled to begin in earnest next year, officials at Manpower and Reserve Affairs hope that by expanding the window, more Marines will step forward.
To that end, Marines considering the VEERP should understand that the program is a cost-savings measure used to trim the ranks — so those who leave early will stop receiving a paycheck and they will not qualify for financial incentives offered via the Corps' other drawdown-related voluntary-release programs.
Additionally, requests must be endorsed by Marines' command and manpower planners, who will evaluate operational needs, officials said in Marine administrative message 371/12, published July 12.
All 41,000 Marines with EAS dates in fiscal 2013, which starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2013, are potentially eligible, but it's the Corps' 25,000 first-term Marines who are most likely to apply, said Maj. Roy Ezell, the end-strength planner for the Enlisted Plans Section at Manpower and Reserve Affairs. In all, officials expect to separate between 5,500 and 6,500 via VEERP in fiscal 2013, he said.
The program allows leaders to approve separations up to a year early, but officials say few Marines will be able to take advantage of the program's full authorization because "cross-fiscal year requests "are not allowed. That means Marines with EAS dates in fiscal 2013 cannot request to leave in fiscal 2012. So if a Marine has an EAS on Jan. 1, 2013, for example, he can leave only three months early. Only those with an EAS date of Sept. 30, 2013, can get out an entire year early.
Through the remainder of fiscal 2012, the Corps' authorized active-duty end strength is 202,100. As the drawdown plays out, officials expect to reduce manpower by about 5,000 a year through fiscal 2016, leaving an authorized force of 182,100.
Current manpower levels, however, sit around 197,000. That faster-than-expected dip prompted the ban on cross-fiscal VEERP requests, Ezell said. The ban could be lifted for the fiscal 2014 program, he said, but it will depend on manpower trends.
How it works
To apply for VEERP, Marines with a fiscal 2013 separation date must submit a request through their chain of command between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15, according to the MARADMIN.
Marines with fiscal 2012 separation dates can apply now — and are encouraged to submit applications at least 45 days prior to their requested early release date.
The first step in the approval process is for commanders to assess their units and determine whether they can afford to lose a Marine early. Those filling mission-critical billets whose absence would jeopardize unit readiness are unlikely to receive permission.
"To be approved for VEERP, a Marine's chain of command must be willing to have him leave early and not receive a replacement for him until possibly his original EAS date," Ezell said. "Ultimately, [Headquarters Marine Corps] counts on the chain of command to make a prudent recommendation based on their ability to operate without a billet filled for a period of time."
That means Marines in high-demand, low-density MOSs may not get the green light. And even if a commander says yes, manpower officials responsible for crunching the numbers may have to delay some requested separation dates to prevent the loss of too many Marines at once.
Although officials expect that commanders and manpower planners are likely to endorse many requests, the inherent uncertainty means Marines should not make plans under the assumption their request will be granted. It is not guaranteed.
"Don't buy a house. Don't sign a contract for something," Ezell said. "Participation in VEERP is not an entitlement, it's a perk."
That being said, Marines who think they may not be approved should not be discouraged from applying, he added.
"It's not an all-or-nothing deal," Ezell said. "We want to give Marines as much as we can, but maintain our operational capability."
That means a Marine in a badly needed job who requests to get out 10 months early, for example, might still be approved to leave three months early instead.
While commanders are cautioned that recommending a Marine for early release could mean a vacant billet for weeks or even months, the VEERP could in many cases increase operational capability by replacing non-deployable with deployable Marines who still have several years on their contracts, Ezell said.
"From the Marine Corps' perspective … it helps us save money because that guy is already getting out," he said. "But that also leaves a gap for another Marine to come in that, potentially, after training has three or three-and-a-half years left … versus this Marine at the end of his contract who has all this administrative stuff to do and is not deployable because of his EAS."
The last year of a Marine's career is cluttered with requirements such as the Transition Assistance Management Program, which helps Marines prepare for life after the military. That includes everything from briefs on their post-service medical and education benefits to résumé-building workshops, and classes for those interested in starting their own business.
Also, Marines scheduled to deploy must have at least 14 to 15 months left on their enlistment to accommodate the standard six-month workup, a seven-month tour and three-month post-deployment assessment meant to ensure they are physically and mentally fit before leaving the service.