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The U.S. government offers a support program to facilitate almost every conceivable military-to-civilian transition. In 2019 and 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessed the federally funded programs that help transitioning service members, veterans, and their families by cataloguing 45 programs overseen by 11 federal agencies. This report attempts to update the GAO's analysis by examining the benefits, costs, and evaluations of these programs.

This report groups such programs into four categories: the budgetary "Big Four" programs, which include the Post-9/11 GI Bill (PGIB), Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E), the Department of Defense (DoD)'s Tuition Assistance Program, and Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA); second-tier programs, which are the Montgomery GI Bill and Jobs for Veterans State Grants; the third-tier program, the DoD's Transition Assistance Program (TAP); and small programs, which include a variety of programs designed for specialized populations. For each program, the authors present a brief history, identify the populations it targets, and summarize the program's goals and provided benefits. The authors conclude each program's section by characterizing the evaluation literature, highlighting key findings about program effectiveness, and assessing the strength of the evidence supporting these findings.

Key Findings

Most employment transition programs are actually focused on education

  • Overall, very few programs and a small amount of funding are dedicated to helping service members and veterans translate their military skills to the civilian labor market, find civilian apprenticeships or jobs, or connect with civilian employers.
  • The vast majority of federal funding goes to employment transition programs that primarily support education.
  • In fiscal year 2019, the Big Four programs accounted for $13.5 billion out of $14.3 billion total, whereas funding for the TAP, which serves all transitioning service members, was approximately $140 million.

There is limited evidence that federally funded employment transition programs are effective

  • In some cases, the evidence is counterintuitive. For example, the TAP is associated with lower wages for program participants.
  • Some programs have no reported data, evaluation plans, or outcome measures.

Transition programs face limited oversight and budgetary scrutiny

  • This study found outdated and conflicting information, even for such large programs as VR&E, when attempting to update the GAO's findings.
  • The largest program in terms of budget, the PGIB, provides little information on participation.
  • There is a need for policymaker intervention to require agencies to standardize their budget and performance reporting.

There are opportunities to address redundancies in transition programs and services

  • There might be opportunities to consolidate programs that provide on-the-job training in specific skill sets to improve outreach, reduce overhead costs, and avoid duplications of effort.
  • The involvement of various federal agencies can make consolidation challenging, so this area needs more research.

Recommendations

  • The U.S. government should conduct an independent evaluation of the largest programs to reduce inefficiencies and improve performance. Many questions about these programs' efficiency and effectiveness could be answered by an independent evaluation of the largest programs conducted by an agency that is empowered to access detailed budget information and performance evaluation results.
  • The U.S. government should refocus military-to-civilian transition support on employment. One option is to invest in programs that help service members and veterans to transition quickly, especially those programs offering personalized support. There also might be opportunities for DoD to outsource career counseling through vouchers for the services of local private-sector professionals.
  • The U.S. government should mandate consistent and routine budget reporting for all programs that support military-to-civilian transitions. There is a need for policymaker intervention to require agencies to standardize their budget and performance reporting. This study often found outdated and conflicting budgetary information, even for large programs.
  • The U.S. government should identify opportunities to streamline the employment transition landscape and improve oversight. Excess programs can complicate the benefit landscape for veterans who already need to navigate an enormous number of resources.

Research conducted by

Funding for this publication was made possible by a generous gift from Daniel J. Epstein through the Epstein Family Foundation with additional support from The Heinz Endowments. The research was conducted by the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute within RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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