It’s here! Orders to Nowhere is now a book!

It’s finally here!  The first edition of Orders to Nowhere is available in print.  It will be six to eight weeks before it shows up in bookstores, and a week or so before it hits Amazon.com.  If you want to avoid the wait, you can order it straight from the printer by clicking the cover:

Orders to Nowhere

Since you are a loyal reader and follower of the blog that got it all started, you can use the discount code ZVGYFQ28 and save 10% off the cover price.

Thank each and every one of you for reading and following my journey through transition!

Why are transition assistance programs not as effective as they should be? The answers are out there, but nobody is asking the questions.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines leave the military service they are generally young, fit, and eager to get to work in the civilian world.  Many go to school to obtain an education, but many more jump headlong into the job market.  Unfortunately, they are not as prepared as they could be to compete in the cutthroat employment marketplace.  It is not because the government is not trying to help transitioning military folks learn the skills they need to get a job, because there are a multitude of programs out there to help with transition.  Unfortunately, those programs are not nearly as effective as they could and should be.

The Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and Department of Labor have spent many millions of dollars (over $50 Million in 2012 alone) on various programs designed to help veterans make the transition from military service to the civilian world.  These agencies are charged with conducting classes, seminars, and counseling that is designed to help those who are hanging up their uniforms with the challenging and often confusing process of becoming a civilian again.

Despite the efforts of these agencies, there is a serious problem with unemployment for recently discharged veterans.  The population of younger veterans who are recently discharged is having the toughest time, with those in the 20 – 24 year old age bracket hitting an unemployment rate of 35% in March of this year according to a Syracuse University study that was released last month (available here: March 2013 Employment Situation of Veterans) .  That stunning number is well over double the rate for the same population of non-veterans.

That means that a lot of our veterans are out of work, and as a result the DOD is paying a lot of money out in the form of unemployment benefits to those who can’t find a job.  It is a shocking amount of money.  I mean really shocking!

How shocking?  Try nearly $1 Billion dollars a year (the actual number was $928 million for 2012 and is on track to increase in 2013).  Almost one billion dollars.  For unemployment benefits.  For veterans who cannot find a job.  And it comes out of the DOD’s annual budget, and every dollar that is spent on unemployment benefits for a veteran is a dollar that is not spent on the people still serving or the equipment that they use to keep our nation safe.

Paying unemployment insurance for separated military personnel is not new for the Department of Defense.  In fact, the DOD has been paying millions of dollars in unemployment benefits for a long time, but the billion dollar pricetag is unprecedented. In 2003, the military paid about $300 million on such benefits, and a decade later that cost has over tripled.

There are a lot of reasons for the increase, with the most obvious being the increase in the number of people leaving the military and having a rough time finding a job in the tough economic conditions that exist today.

That is only part of the story, however.  The Obama administration, to their credit, has increased funding and awareness for the plight of jobless veterans.  Unfortunately, those efforts are not paying the dividends that they should be.  With such a high level of emphasis and funding for transition training and education, you would think that the unemployment rate for veterans would be at or below the non-veteran level.  Unfortunately, it is not.

That is where the data from the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey becomes very interesting.

As I continue to research the subject of military transition, I have been analyzing the data from the survey and a few data points really jump out.  The first data point is how little feedback about the transition process is actually gathered by the organizations that are actually doing the transition training.

Every branch of the military uses After Action Reviews (AARs) to gather feedback from events and learn from the lessons that the AAR provides.  Pilots debrief every mission in order to become better aviators and infantrymen get together and discuss the lessons that they learned from their combat or training engagements.  These debriefs and lessons learned sharing sessions are part of every service and every career field.  Capturing lessons and learning from experience is a crucial part of what makes our military unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the AAR process does not seem to apply to transitioning or recently transitioned veterans.  Despite the culture of learning from experience, the vast pool of potential data sources — recently transitioned veterans — is virtually untapped.

The data shows that, of respondents who left the service between 2003 and 2013, less than one in five had been contacted by the Department of Defense or their branch of service about transition.  Of those one in five who had been contacted, less than half (0r just under 10% of all respondents) were asked to participate in an AAR of the transition process.

In other words, fewer than one in ten recently discharged veterans have been asked to help make the transition process better by providing feedback on their experience.

That, to me, is an incredibly disappointing statistic.  It is not particularly surprising, however.  Nobody officially asked me anything about my transition, and in my many conversations with veterans I have found that nobody asked them either.

Millions and millions of dollars are being spent every year on the military transition process, yet unemployment rates for veterans continues to exceed their civilian counterparts.  Nearly a billion dollars is being spent by the DOD on unemployment benefits for those unemployed veterans.  You would think that somebody would connect the dots between the efficacy of the military transition programs and their effect on the unemployment rate, but sadly the most readily available resource of feedback is largely being ignored.  Nobody is asking the vast majority of people who have gone through those transition programs and entered the civilian workforce about their experiences and how the transition programs could be improved.

The answers are out there.  Too bad nobody is asking the right people the questions.

In yet another shameless plug- I can never get enough data in the Orders to Nowhere Military Transition Survey.  So if you have transitioned from the US military (it doesn’t matter when), please take the survey!  If you have take it, I thank you.  Please ask others to take it too!

Some preliminary results

Thanks to all of you who have read my posts about the transition survey that I using to conduct some research into the military transition process.   A lot of you have helped me out, and I truly appreciate your time in taking the survey and for sharing it with others who can help.

That said, I can never get enough data.  If you are a veteran or a military person going through transition, please take my survey here: Military Transition Survey .  Thanks!

So far the data are showing some interesting trends.  The Marine Corps is the best represented so far, so for those of you in other branches here is your chance to catch up and beat the Marines….

About half of the respondents are combat veterans, and veterans from every conflict since the Korean War have taken the survey.  My first look at the data shows that there are many more programs available today than were out there for earlier generations of veterans, with many of our Vietnam, Korean, and Cold War veterans responding that they had no formal outprocessing resources.

More recent veterans report that there are a lot of different programs currently available, and that they produce a wide disparity in results.  Some are reported to be great, and others are reported to be useless.  I am looking forward to diving more deeply into the data to learn more.

The split between veterans who did and did not serve in active combat is about even, as is the ratio between enlisted and commissioned respondents.  Very few warrant officers have weighed in, though — so if you are a warrant officer, please jump in!

I will start analyzing the information in greater depth next week, and I’ll keep you posted.  Till then, keep sharing the link and get as many of your peers and friends as you can to take the survey.

Thanks!

 

Another plug for help!

Last week I wrote about a survey that I am conducting about the military transition process.  So far the response has been good (thanks to all of you who have already taken it!) but I am only about halfway there.  In order to have an unbiased survey it is important to get as many responses as possible in order to make sure that the sample of those of you who take the survey are representative of the entire population of transitioning or transitioned folks.  At the risk of being redundant, I ask again that if you have gone through or are going through the transition process and have not yet taken my survey, would you please help me out?  Also, please forward it to anyone, from any branch and any time period, who has made the jump?  I promise that this will be my last humble request!

The survey is 29 questions long and takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.  Here is the link:

Military Transition Survey

Also, I am very eager to hear from all of the branches of the armed forces.  The Marine response has been great (keep them coming!), and I want to make sure that you know that I would like to hear from any and all who have undergone the transition process.

Thanks!  In my next posts we’ll start looking at some of the emerging and interesting trends that the survey is revealing.

A chance to improve the military to civilian transition process

As those who follow my writings about military transition know, the process is often contrary, capricious, confusing, and supremely frustrating.  I have been writing about my experiences for nearly two years now, and over that time I have been disappointed to see that the process has not really improved.  Transition is still just as consternating as ever, despite millions of dollars spent on the process by both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.

I am currently writing a book about my transitional journey, and that is where you come into the picture.  I have created a survey in which I am humbly asking every veteran and every military person who is going through transition or has completed transition to participate.  I have my own observations and opinions, but as author Eric Herzel once said: “One’s opinion should only be as strong as one’s knowledge on the matter.”

Since I am planning to write much more about transition, I really need to incorporate the collective knowledge of as many of you who have experienced transition in order to make my opinions as fact-based as possible.  Will you help?

Without further ado, here is:

Military Transition  Survey

Thank you in advance — and I will be posting the insights and results soon!

Still waiting for the call that may never come…

My last post left all of us hanging in anticipation of a call from the VA in regards to my disability claim.  You see, I had called and called the VA’a customer service number during the day with no luck whatsoever.  After finally getting up waaaaay before the crack of dawn I called again and finally got ahold of a VA representative.  We reviewed my case, and he agreed that something was amiss.  He promised that a representative would call in the next ten working days to let me know what was up.

I cheerily hung up and waited by the phone like a thirteen year old waiting for a girl to call and invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.

Well, it is now working day number nine.  No call.  No dance.

I have been holding my breath so long that I have gone from blue to purple.  They are not late yet.  One day to go!

I wonder if they will call?

The anticipation is killing me!  If they do, I will write a post to tell you how it went.  If they don’t, I will write a post to tell you how it didn’t go.

I think I see a zero dark thirty phonecall to the VA in my future…again.

Back to the Veterans Administration

Several months ago I received a rather large package from the Veterans Administration.  Inside was the copy of my medical record that I had submitted with my claim some nine months earlier as well as a sheaf of rather official looking documents.

Hooray, thought I!  My claim was settled.

Well, kind of.  Actually about half of my claim was settled, and the other half was not.

You see, as I departed active duty I was thoroughly examined by both military and veterans administration physicians as a part of the final physical process.  The Navy doctors and corpsmen checked me out and documented everything that was relevant into my records, and the VA then followed up with an examination of their own to determine what conditions, if any, that I had developed during my service would be considered disabling.  Having the conditions rated as disabling is important because the VA treats those conditions free of charge.

In my case, about half of the conditions that had been identified during my physicals were rated as disability-related conditions and would be addressed by the VA in the future.  The other half were marked as “deferred” because they needed additional information.  The letter went on to say that they had requested a medical examination, and that I would be “notified of the date, time, and place to report.”  It sounded reasonable, so all I had to do was be patient and wait.

One month went by.

Then two.  Then three.  Four.  Finally at month five I decided that my phone wasn’t going to ring any time soon and I needed to do something about it.  But what?

Thinking back to my experience at the Transition Assistance Course I remembered that a representative from the Disabled American Veterans had talked me through the VA medical evaluation process as he evaluated my medical record.  I had signed a limited power of attorney that appointed the DAV as the Veterans Service Organization that would represent me in my VA proceedings, and now it was time to give them a ring and ask for some help.

After rummaging through the rather tall pile of transition related documents that occupies a significant portion of my desk I found his business card.  “Aha!”  thought I.  “A call and it will all be fixed!”

Wrong again.

I did call the number, only to find that I was calling the wrong number.  It turns out that the gentleman that I had worked with during the TAP seminar was not the same gentleman that I would be working with in my dealings with the VA.  The guy at TAPS was fully engaged in meeting new veterans and helping get their claims processes started.  Once the veterans were in the DAV system they (including me!) would be working with representatives at their regional office located in San Diego.

So I called that number.  Unfortunately their offices were closed for the holidays, so I called back once the holidays were over.  I finally linked up with a live person and after speaking to a very nice lady who took down some basic information were instructed to wait for a representative to call me back.

After a day or two of swapping voicemails because of missed calls the DAV representative and I finally linked up on the phone.  I explained my dilemma to him, and he patiently explained what needed to happen next.

“What you have,” he said,” is a partially completed claim.  At this point there really isn’t anything the DAV can do for you because our process begins when the initial VA claim is settled.”

Sensing my frustration, he continued.

“What you need to do is to contact the VA and set up an appointment to get the ball rolling yourself.  You need to do this quickly because if you don’t follow up on the listed conditions they may be disallowed because you are not showing that they are still a problem.”  He then gave me the appropriate phone number for the closest VA office and we said our goodbyes.

Hmm… So I need to get my sore knees and bad back looked at again?  I had signed up for TRICARE Prime, so I could go to the doctor, but my decades of “sucking it up” had precluded me from making an appointment for something that did not involve broken bones or arterial bleeding.

So I called the VA the next day.  After a similar game of telephone and voicemail tag I spoke with a very helpful gentleman who understood exactly what my dilemma was.  He checked his calendar and squeezed me into an appointment this coming Wednesday, where he promised to get my ship sailing in the right direction.

And I promise to tell you how it goes…

__________

Lessons Learned:

1.  Contact your VSO immediately after you receive your VA claim settlement letter.  I lost about five months as I waited for the VA to contact me before I finally got on the ball and started engaging the system.

2.  The VA is buried in claims and the best thing to do is to take charge of your case.  Waiting just means that others who are being proactive are jumping in line ahead of you.

3.  Your VSO can explain the intricacies of the settlement letter in a phone call, but you have to contact them to initiate the conversation.

4.  The next call you make after the VSO should be your local VA office in order to initiate the next steps in the evaluation process.  If your claim is settled, then you need to contact them to be registered in their computer system so that you can access healthcare providers.  If your claim is not fully settled, then you need to get registered and schedule appointments with the appropriate professionals in order to finish up your claim.