Although Department of Defense officials say they like to “recruit the member, but retain the family,” there will naturally always be people transitioning out of the military — about 200,000 per year, according to the DOD.
And those transitioning are seeing many problems, according to a 2019 survey released June 23 by the Military Family Advisory Network, a non-profit that researches the needs of military families.
MFAN asked 7,785 servicemembers and spouses across the military a variety of open-ended and multiple-choice questions, ranging from health and well-being to employment and transition. They recently released a report on their results.
Upon transitioning, 55.4 percent of those surveyed felt they received no or not much help with the process. The rest relied heavily upon assistance from the military, with some using private sector sources, government help, or family and friends.
This group of more than half of respondents specifically complained that the support provided was insufficient and lacking for both servicemembers and their spouses.
“The TAPS seminar was not very helpful. Other than that, here was no assistance,” said the spouse of a Coast Guard veteran in a survey response.
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is one of the resources available at the all of the 307 employment assistance centers at military installations worldwide, according to the DOD. They also aid in career exploration, resume writing, and developing interviewing skills and job search techniques.
A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that “complete and reliable usage data are not yet available” for these employment assistance centers. But MFAN’s survey results indicate that these centers are either not being used much or provide insufficient help.
Respondents’ number one concern in transition support was employment assistance, when the majority of respondents described difficulties seeking employment.
Most people said they can’t find any support to help them find work. According to the report, “nearly 30 percent said nothing is working, and an additional 22.8 percent said they wished they had more information and resources.”
At the same time, about a quarter of respondents said it was “very easy” to find employment opportunities. Networking, including LinkedIn and career fairs, and nonprofit assistance were at the top of the list of helpful resources, while only about 6 percent referenced military programs.
Alongside additional employment assistance, respondents said they could use extra support adjusting to civilian life, navigating medical and other benefits, and more information on retirement pay.
Despite these challenges, MFAN found that people leave the service for a variety of reasons, the first being retirement eligibility, which was consistent with their 2017 survey. The subsequent top factors in the 2019 survey were much different – some examples being leadership and work climate issues, or family and lifestyle reasons.
But amid a pandemic, the military is reaching retention goals across the board.
As of May, the Army surpassed its goal by 2,000 soldiers, the Air Force was on track with their target, and the Marine Corps was just 100 soldiers short of where they need to be by the end of September. The Navy was not able to provide retentions numbers at the time.
This has been largely attributed to an economic slump and uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 crisis — the military, with its job security, steady paycheck and benefits, is currently looking like a good place to be.
Currently, many soldiers are taking advantage of programs to delay their military departure past the peak coronavirus period, specifically in the Army and Marine Corps.
“What we’re seeing this year, which is directly related to COVID, is we do have a population of soldiers that what they were expecting at the end of transition has suddenly disappeared,” said Sgt. Maj. Stuart Morgan, a senior Army career counselor. “And now you have a soldier that is trying to go through a transition period that is now facing uncertainty on the outside.”