FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Oct. 18, 2012) -- Legislation signed last year by President Barack Obama calls for mandatory changes in the Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program.

The Veterans Opportunity To Work To Hire Heroes Act, signed by the president in November 2011, updates TAP and better prepares service members to transition to the civilian sector after their military service and reduce the number of unemployed veterans.

The Army's TAP is called the Army Career and Alumni Program. It was created to help provide employment and career information and services, as well as benefit information, to Soldiers who are about to separate or are retiring from the Army.

Information and services are also available to veterans, Department of the Army civilians and family members.

Under the VOW Act, Soldiers who have an Expiration of Term of Service to separate or retire from the Army are now mandated to begin pre-separation counseling at least one year before their ETS or retirement date.

Soldiers who have an ETS date can start the process 18 months earlier. Retiring Soldiers can start the process 24 months before their retirement date.

In the past, Soldiers were given 90 days to start pre-separation counseling before their ETS or retirement date.

"Under the old program, a lot of folks walked right up to the 90 days and were left unprepared," said George Matthews, Fort Meade's Transition Services manager.

The legislation also mandates that Soldiers enroll in the Employment Assistance Workshop, attend the Department of Veterans Affairs briefing and register with the VA to be advised of their entitlements and benefits.

Soldiers also are mandated to receive a financial preparedness briefing to provide a realistic road map of their financial needs after their separation or retirement. In the past, these services were optional.

Matthews said the VOW Act makes ACAP a unit commander's program and unit commanders and unit career counselors responsible for ensuring that Soldiers about to be discharged or retire meet the mandated timetable for transition services.

Army installations also must track their progress in meeting the new ACAP guidelines. Matthews maintains a database of Soldiers from all units who are assigned to Fort Meade and are scheduled to ETS or retire within the next 18 months. He said he is keeping track of units that have Soldiers who are adhering to the mandatory requirements and of units that have fallen behind the timetable.

Unit commanders are expected to have access to the database in November. Matthews said "the pressure is on" to adhere to the new timetables.

A final requirement of the legislation is the establishment of a Transition Services Council at all Army installations to assess each installation's compliance with the VOW Act.

Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein is chair of the Fort Meade Transition Services Council, which is set to convene within the next 30 days. The council includes representatives from ACAP; the Directorate of Human Resources; the Retirement Services Office; the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; the Fort Meade Education Center; the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Department of Labor; the Army Reserve Regional Support and Command; the regional National Guard; and other key stakeholders.

The Transition Services Council will meet on a quarterly basis.

Matthews said Soldiers who want to begin pre-separation counseling can complete the pre-separation counseling checklist form DD-2648 online at Once the form is completed, Soldiers should call the Fort Meade ACAP Center at 301-677-9781 to schedule an initial counseling appointment.

The DD-2648 form can only be printed at ACAP.