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New VA Program Improves the ETS Experience for Service Members

ETS - Expiration of Term of Service  - when a service member leaves the military - means change. And change, although a good thing, can also bring stress. The ETS Sponsorship Program is a new Veterans Administration (VA) initiative that aims to reduce the stress in the transitioning Service Member’s life.

When a service member and family leave the military, they have so many questions. There may be questions about employment, education, housing, legal support, medical/mental health support. There may be questions about the Reserves, the Guard, the role of the VA. There may be questions about the myriad of veteran organizations that exist. 

The service member and family enter this exciting transition period with so many questions- and no support structure! When they drive out the gate, they not only leave Tricare and on-post housing behind. They also leave behind their chain of command. They leave behind the comraderie of the military. 

These changes that occur during the transition process can lead to increased stressors, a decreased sense of purpose and an elevated risk for suicide and other mental health concerns. 

This is why the VA collaborated with the Department of Defense (DoD), academia, including Syracuse and Columbia Universities, local governments and non-profits such as ProVetus, to establish the ETS Sponsorship Program.  The ETS Sponsorship Program helps service members who are transitioning to civilian life. 

The Core ETS Sponsorship Program Team 

How Does ETS Sponsorship Work?

After signing up at their military installations, service members will be matched with an ETS sponsor in their identified post-military hometown, based on their job interests, gender and other characteristics, interests and needs. Sponsorship sessions occur virtually until the service member arrives home. Thanks to the support of Starbucks, in-person sessions can be continued in local Starbucks coffee shops, with complimentary beverages and food, or at other locations in the service members’ community. 

The VA provides certification training for ETS Sponsors to ensure they are adequately trained and best able to assist service members with the following:

  • Transition tasks, such as education, employment, housing, legal support and medical/military health support.
  • Overcoming stigma that they may associate with seeking mental health support when they need it.
  • Connecting to VA and community resources in partnership with Veteran support networks in select cities.
  • Responding to any signs of possible suicide.

ETS Sponsors attend graduation ceremony in New York City

How Can I Get Involved?

If you are interested in serving as an ETS Sponsor, please consent and apply here. 

To access mental health information and resources for transitioning service members, visit the Transitioning Service Members overview page

To hear Veterans’ stories about transitioning from the service, visit the Transitioning from Service page on the Make the Connection website. 

About the Authors

Joseph Geraci, Ph.D., LMHC

Dr. Geraci is a psychologist, a New York licensed health counselor and a retired U.S. Army (Infantry) Lieutenant Colonel. Dr. Geraci works in VA Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 2’s Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC) Center of Excellence in Bronx, New York.

Marianne Goodman, M.D.

Dr. Goodman is a psychiatrist and associate director of VA VISN 2’s MIRECC Center of Excellence. She is a professor and the director of the Suicide Prevention Clinical and Research Program.

 Richard Seim, Ph.D.

Dr. Seim is the acting director and the education and dissemination core leader of the VA VISM 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans in Waco, Texas.

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