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President Barack Obama shakes the hand of Donald E. Larson, National President of the Fleet Reserve Association, after delivering remarks during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama shakes the hand of Donald E. Larson, National President of the Fleet Reserve Association, after delivering remarks during a Veterans Day ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Five years ago today, President Obama signed into law the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which brought about major changes to help transitioning Service members and veterans.

On the fifth anniversary of the signing of the law, we pause to reflect on the progress the Administration has made to promote the economic opportunity of our service members and veterans.

In 2011, faced with veteran unemployment rates that remained high following the Great Recession and a national need for more entrepreneurs and skilled workers, the President signed the VOW Act, which mandated that the Department of Labor (DOL) study the skills that service members learn in the military and improve the translation of those skills into civilian-sector certifications. The Act also authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide eligible veterans with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits, to extend vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits for 12 months for eligible veterans, and to expand the Special Incentive Program to employers who hire and provide on-the-job training for eligible Veterans.

At the same time, the Administration brought together a diverse group of government partners charged with redesigning the decades old Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to ensure separating service members are prepared for educational advancement and meaningful career opportunities after transitioning into civilian life.

Together, the Departments of Defense (DoD), Education, DOL, and VA, as well as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), and others, oversaw the creation and implementation of a framework to instruct, gauge, and enhance service member career readiness through the redesigned TAP.

The interagency collaboration improved communication on the topic; better leveraged federal tools, processes, and limited resources; and resulted in several enhancements to the transition process, including the following:

  • A redesigned curriculum that is mandatory for all separating service members and available to all military spouses
  • Additional “career tracks” for those wanting to start a business, seeking job-ready skills, and those pursuing higher education
  • Smaller class sizes to provide individual attention
  • Individual transition plans that are customized to each Service member’s personal goals
  • Completion based on achieving "Career Readiness Standards,” not simply attendance

The program concludes with a capstone event, verifying that each service member has met Career Readiness Standards and has an actionable individual transition plan.

The enhanced TAP also equips service members with skills and resources to cope with the stress of separating from the military; how to identify and promote translatable employment skills, training and pre-transition activities to help them obtain meaningful civilian employment; and information on how to capitalize on all the VA benefits earned through their military service. An additional congressional authority called SkillBridge complements TAP by allowing eligible service members to obtain civilian job skills training from employers beginning up to six months prior to separating from the military.

Watch service members discuss their experience going through the program.

To further improve transition, an online curriculum was made available to service members, veterans, and their families. Participants can access the courses and review the training at their preferred pace. Veterans who transitioned before the enactment of the redesigned TAP can also take advantage of this online curriculum at any time. This curriculum is available here.

Since the implementation of the VOW Act:

  • More than 1 million service members have transitioned into civilian life
  • The unemployment rate for veterans has been reduced by more than half, falling from a high of 9.9 percent in 2011 to 4.3 percent today. In addition, the Post-9/11 veterans unemployment rate is 4.7 percent today, down from a high of 15.2 percent in 2011
  • VA has deployed more than 300 Benefit Advisors worldwide to provide information on the benefits and services VA provides

Every year, roughly 200,000 service members separate, retire, or are released from active duty, and we are excited about the progress that has been made in preparing them for success. Moving forward, agencies will continue to work to ensure service members, veterans, and their family members are provided the opportunity to fulfill the American dream.

  • To learn more about DoD’s curriculum and transition resources, visit:
  • To learn more about VA support under TAP, visit:
  • To learn more about DOL’s employment resources for veterans and more than 2,400 local American Job Centers across the country offering in-person assistance, visit:
  • To learn more about OPM’s resources supporting the employment of veterans in the federal government, visit Feds Hire Vets:

To learn more about the Federal Government's Council on Veterans Employment efforts to assist veterans, transitioning service members, and their families with federal careers, visit Feds Hire Vets, the federal government's one-stop resource for federal employment information at:

Ayotunde Babajide is Senior Policy Advisor for the National Economic Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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