Air Force bolsters civilian transition program for veterans

Thursday - 8/30/2012, 3:43pm EDT

Peggy Rayfield, Chief of Transition Operations, Air Force

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The Air Force is boosting its civilian transition program for airmen, the first major overhaul of the program in 20 years.

Among the changes, the Air Force is offering three "paths" for airmen — an educational path to go back to school, a small business path to become an entrepreneur and a vocational technical path.

The service is also expanding its three-day transition workshop to five days. Part of the workshop is pre-separation financial counseling, which the Air Force has offered for the last 20 years but is now "bolstering."

Seven in 10 veterans say the greatest challenge to returning to civilian life is finding a job, according to a survey of more than 2,400 veterans by Prudential. The unemployment rates among vets reflect those challenges — in 2011, veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 had an unemployment rate of 30 percent, nearly double the unemployment rate of their civilian counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I think our leadership was startled by our unemployment rates," said Peggy Rayfield, the Air Force's chief of transition operations, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The workshop will address the changes airmen will face when they start looking for a civilian job, particularly the salary and benefits changes.

"When you look at medical and dental and tax shelters and special kinds of pay for combat, educational benefits, it's amazing," Rayfield said. "I don't think they're really aware of all those perks until it's boiled odwn for them in the class."

They also get training in how to communicate to employers how their military skills translate into a civilian workplace, Rayfield said. The workshop includes Department of Labor training in how to shift from military speak to civilian speak.

Overall, the Air Force is pushing a more "tailored" approach to transition counseling and is in the process of hiring 135 counselors, Rayfield said.

"Some [veterans] do well in the private sector and they can't wait to get out because they actually make a better salary in the private sector," she said. "But others, it takes them awhile to recover and they really have to do a lot of work to get back to that level. They have to start at a lower place and come back up to prove themselves."

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