JULY 1, 2021 – Starting a new chapter in one’s life, such as a new job or moving to a new area, can be difficult.
Transitioning out of the military is no different. In addition to ending their military service, transitioning service members must be able to navigate the myriad of programs and services that are available to them and their families.
Transition Assistance Advisors are available so service members don’t have to go through this process alone. Any reserve-component service member who served more than 180 days of continuous active duty is eligible for service from TAAs.
At Fort Indiantown Gap, Melissa Singer and Matthew Armstrong serve as TAAs for both National Guard and Reserve personnel. They know about the challenges of serving in the military and transitioning out of it: Singer served in the Pennsylvania National Guard for 28 years, and Armstrong served for 22 years.
Neither of them took advantage of the Transition Assistance program, though. Like many others, they simply didn’t know about it.
“That is why it is our mission to travel across the state to meet with the leadership of all reserve component,” Singer said.
While their primary mission is to assist reserve-component personnel, Singer said she and Armstrong want to ensure all eligible members are aware of the potential benefits they may be entitled to.
“If we receive a call from an individual who does not meet the eligibility criteria of our program, we don’t stop there,” she said. “We will put them in direct contact with someone who is able to assist them.”
Transition Assistance Advisors were established in 2005 when the Chief of National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The principal role of TAAs is to provide direction to members of the reserve component so they can secure all the benefits, entitlements and services earned through their military service.
According to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, TAAs “serve as points of contact to assist eligible members of the reserve components in accessing benefits and health care furnished under laws administered by the Secretary of Defense and benefits and health care furnished under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”
This support empowers members of the Reserve Component with the knowledge needed to take advantage of the programs and benefits available to them. Those benefits include education and training, employment assistance, health and life insurance, financial assistance, relocation assistance, physical and mental health and well-being and disabled veterans benefits.
Singer and Armstrong’s office is located in Building 14-99 at Fort Indiantown Gap. Singer has been a TAA for about 11 months and Armstrong 4.
“When individuals contact us, we spend the necessary time to understand their issues, help to identify the solutions and at times address other secondary and tertiary benefits they may not have known existed,” Singer said. “We have the access to local, state and national resources to inform and assist service members, veterans and their families.”
Singer and Armstrong are currently the only TAAs in Pennsylvania and often travel around the state to try to get the word out.
“We did a western Pennsylvania recon a couple of weeks ago, hitting eight reserve-component units, including the National Guard, Army Reserve, Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said it can be difficult getting the word out both about his office’s mission and all the benefits available to service members.
“The program has gone through some changes within the past couple years, shifting the focus to 10 core benefit categories and servicing all reserve components, not just the National Guard,” he said. “So getting the word out about who we are and what we do based on the statement of work has been a challenge, specifically as it relates to the other components.”
Regardless, Armstrong said he enjoys the opportunity to help Soldiers and veterans and give back to the military.
“The Army paid for two undergraduate degrees and a master’s, so I felt somewhat obligated when the opportunity to work as a TAA opened up,” he said.
The Fort Indiantown Gap Transition Assistance office can be reached at 717-861-2813 or 717-861-8706.
Story by Brad Rhen
Joint Force Headquarters – Pennsylvania National Guard