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Each year, more than 200,000 service members transition out of the U.S. military and into civilian life, whether through retirement or simply reaching the end of their term of service. Many of these men and women will choose to join the civilian workforce, where the training they received during their military service will prove invaluable in their new careers. In fact, many employers value the leadership skills, teamwork and commitment to achieving the goal that veterans practiced on a daily basis during their time in uniform.

However, for some service members, this transition may be the most challenging part of their military career. Fortunately, the Army has a number of programs designed to help transitioning service members make their way in the civilian world. One of these, the Army Career Skills Program (CSP), was created in 2015 to allow transitioning soldiers to participate in skills training in order to improve their civilian employment prospects. The program’s focus is on apprenticeships, on-the-job training, internships, job shadowing and other types of employment skills training with some of America’s largest companies. Commanders can nominate soldiers to participate in the program during their last 180 days of service. Since the program began six years ago, the Army has placed more than 21,000 transitioning soldiers in new jobs — a success rate of 93%.

While participating in CSP, soldiers sometimes may need to pay out-of-pocket expenses, among them transportation and lodging costs when traveling to CSP training locations, tools or specific supplies needed for a particular professional opportunity, and uniforms and business attire for the job site. To help defray these costs, Army Emergency Relief (AER), the official nonprofit organization of the U.S. Army, is launching a CSP Assistance Program and committing $3 million in grants to support soldiers approved for participation in CSP. Depending on individual circumstances, soldiers needing financial assistance can receive $1,500 for out-of-pocket costs — in the form of a no-payback grant, not a loan — through the AER program.

As the Army’s official nonprofit, we are proud to support soldiers making the transition to civilian life. Since 1942, AER has assisted 4 million members of the Army team, providing more than $2 billion in assistance to soldiers and their families facing financial challenges of all kinds, including more than $1 billion since 9/11. This assistance typically takes the form of grants and zero-interest loans. All told, our new CSP commitment can help more than 3,000 soldiers pursue the next step in their careers.

This past summer, AER participated in a pilot version of the CSP Assistance Program at forts Hood and Bliss in Texas, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. After the successful completion of the pilot program, AER rolled out the CSP Assistance Program to soldiers at all installations worldwide as of Dec. 1, 2021. Soldiers interested in participating in CSP should contact their first sergeant or commander, while soldiers already cleared for participation in CSP can contact their local AER officer for information on how to apply.

There’s no doubt that the military-to-civilian transition can be challenging for some members of our military; 26% of all veterans, and 47% of those who served since 9/11, said that readjusting to civilian life after years in the military can be difficult. Some common hurdles are the lack of structure in civilian life and the uncertainty of an unfamiliar community or neighborhood, while entering the civilian workforce can be another obstacle. A recent study showed that veterans in the private sector are 15.6% more likely to be underemployed compared to nonveterans.

However, in the face of these challenges, the Army has made it its mission to continue supporting soldiers throughout their military career, including the transition out and start of their new post-service lives. AER is proud to support this goal, and lessen the obstacles that can come with making the military-to-civilian transition.

Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason is director of Army Emergency Relief, the U.S. Army’s official nonprofit organization.


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