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Research Questions

  1. What are the transition needs of reserve component members?
  2. How can DoD best address the needs of transitioning reserve component members?
  3. How can DoD optimally deliver and improve TAP for reserve component members?

Military-to-civilian transitions are a broad set of experiences that occur when active and reserve component members separate from the military, when reserve component members switch from extended active duty back to reserve duty, and when service members retire. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) provides transition services to active and reserve component members through its Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

In support of DoD efforts to better understand the transition needs of reserve component members, the authors conducted targeted literature reviews, informational discussions with transition service providers, and focus groups with reserve component members. This report presents findings from this qualitative study that identify (1) unmet needs for transitioning reserve component members; (2) the impact of current reserve component TAP requirements on individuals and units; and (3) potential improvements to TAP, specifically for reserve component members. Drawing from these findings, the authors present recommendations for improving TAP's effectiveness in addressing reserve component members' transition needs.

Key Findings

  • Reserve component members have transition needs and challenges in seven key areas: (1) navigating employment challenges and accessing benefits, (2) navigating education-related challenges and accessing benefits, (3) navigating health care–related challenges and accessing benefits, (4) navigating financial challenges, (5) identifying and accessing retirement benefits, (6) accessing local transition services, and (7) navigating the timing of the TAP course.
  • TAP focuses on active component members' transition needs and does not adequately address reserve component members' transition needs.
  • The automatic requirement to take TAP after 180 days of active service results in reserve component members taking TAP multiple times with diminishing returns.
  • The timing and location of TAP are problematic for reserve component members.

Recommendations

  • Change the automatic requirement to take TAP after 180 days of active duty service.
  • Make TAP more customizable and flexible to meet individual transition needs.
  • Ensure reserve component members have access to one-on-one counseling.
  • Consider developing a Reserve Component–focused TAP course.
  • Connect reserve component members to the broader support network of state and local transition resources through TAP.
  • Collect regular feedback on TAP so continuous improvements can be made to the program.
  • Continue to assess new DoD policy and service implementation.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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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