Many transition services are available to separating veterans, and some have been expanded for those being forced out, but we can never do enough. The military departments and Congress should act swiftly to expand services to veterans facing separation because of personnel limitations. We also should remember that the vast majority of sailors not selected for continued service by the recent Enlisted Retention Board volunteered to serve during wartime, having enlisted after 9/11. They agreed to go in harm’s way if ordered, aware that such service was likely. To them we owe a debt of gratitude, and even more so to those who actually served in combat but still may be forced to separate.
There are several actions the services and Congress can take to help ease the transition for veterans who have served honorably—many that truly meet the “sustained superior performance” standard and most of the others with minor, one-time lapses—but are being forced from their careers.
First, our veterans deserve the transparency the current administration promised, which should include career-ending actions. Sailors being forced from the Navy are given absolutely no information about why they were not selected for continuation. While the administrative burden for recording and reporting these decisions would be heavy, it’s the very least we owe sailors facing a much heavier, life-altering burden.
Second, they should be granted continued access to exchanges and commissaries. These facilities operate at a small but positive profit, so expanding access costs nothing. Any fears of overcrowding are belied by fewer active-duty beneficiaries using the stores.
Third, access to healthcare in military treatment facilities should be extended past the current 180-day post-separation entitlement for those separating without retirement benefits. Access should be granted for the earlier: 12 months or when the veteran secures employment offering health insurance. This benefit comes with a cost, but it is offset by less manpower resulting from the drawdown and could be further reduced with a minimal policy cost or co-pay after the already approved limit.
The most important aspect of a successful transition—especially for veterans separating unexpectedly and without benefits—is securing gainful employment. Servicemembers separated through force-shaping efforts should be given some hiring priority for federal positions to assist in this endeavor and their qualifications should be scrubbed against all existing federal openings to expedite their employment.
The need to reduce the federal budget and find personnel cost savings is hard to argue against, but veterans should not be punished in the process. The financial savings realized by service-downsizing efforts create hardships for many veterans. Some of those savings can and should be postponed so we can do more for those who served honorably but are being involuntarily forced to end their military careers.
We can never do too much for those who served our nation, and we must ease their transition to civilian life, especially when that transition is forced on them.