Making the transition from the military to civilian life can be challenging, but there are things you can do to prepare to make the switch. Some of these steps may seem easier or simple than they really are, but being proactive and preparing early will definitely help ease the transition.
There are many different ways to prepare to move into civilian life; some focus on house hunting and getting retirement pay issues sorted out, while others are moving into new careers or taking up higher education. Some retirement-eligible men and women in uniform aren’t ready to move into the retirement phase of life.
Whatever type of transition you are making, the following steps will be very important in the specific move out of the military environment.
Military family members should know this information, too-it helps to know what to expect and what your options are when making the switch. Sometimes just a little bit of information can go a long way towards reducing the stress of the changes ahead.
1. Consider The Nature Of Your Transition
Military members who retire or separate from stateside bases have a much easier time with basic changes in housing, employment, and transportation than those who get their out processing done at overseas bases. The simple act of getting a new apartment or house is complicated when you are doing all of your transition paperwork outside the U.S.A.
Many military members know about Temporary Duty Assignment (TDY) options for soon-to-be retired or separated. You may be eligible to get TDY orders for house hunting purposes while still on active duty, but that is subject to mission needs and other factors.
Some who separate may not be able to take advantage of this opportunity depending on circumstances, but it’s a very good idea to discuss the possibility for TDY or leave to search for a new home before out processing is complete. House hunting TDY is usually funded for the military member and spouse only; dependents may accompany the member at the member’s expense. House hunting from an overseas location may require taking leave instead of a TDY depending on circumstances, current regulations, and other issues.
2. Let The Military Help You
In the era of online apartment finders and real estate options, in-person house hunting may not seem as critical as it once was, but renting or even buying a home without the opportunity to take a good look at the property, the neighborhood, and the surrounding area is never a good idea. Taking advantage of a TDY option or taking leave to house hunt in an unfamiliar area is definitely recommended, but not knowing the local housing market could hurt you-do you know the heavy traffic areas, parts of the city notorious for loud events, or high crime zones?
Those who relocate to areas at or near military bases should contact that installation’s orderly room or base Transition Assistance Program office to see what resources might be available including local advice on areas to focus on or avoid in a search for jobs or housing. This is also a good option for those stateside who want to relocate to a different area with one or more military bases nearby.
3. Healthcare Considerations
Some vets have complex medical issues that may dictate where and how a relocation is to happen. Those who need extensive on-base or Department of Veterans Affairs treatment options will need to investigate the best areas of the country to receive the care they need. Others may simply need a VA facility within a reasonable commuting distance from where the live.
When it comes to your immediate needs post-military, you may wish to explore the VA official site to locate facilities at or near your current base or the zip code of your future home. Do this research as early as possible as you prepare to transition; there may be base closures, realignment issues or other factors that could affect your ability to get care in a given area. It’s also a good idea for those already in a treatment or physical therapy regimen to ask their on-base care providers for advice on where to relocate based on their medical needs.
4. Apply For VA Disability Compensation As Early As Possible
Even if you are not sure whether you qualify for VA compensation for service-connected injuries, illnesses, or other medical conditions, it’s very important to get evaluated for these as early as possible. Retiring or separating military members may have a VA appointment to make claims included as part of their out processing, but even if you don’t have that option, it’s best to schedule this before you are no longer serving, especially if you retire or separate from an overseas location.
The claims process itself will require VA medical appointments and follow-up appointments once you leave the military; chances are good that it will take six months or more before you get a decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is best not to count on any income from VA compensation in the first year of your new civilian life, there’s simply no way to tell how, when, or if your claim will be processed in a timely manner.
5. Evaluate Your Job Skills And Overall Employability One Year Ahead Of Your Transition
Some prefer to do these evaluations much earlier than one year, but the 365 days before your retirement or separation is a good timeline to begin actively pursuing your post-military career if you haven’t already. Some military members have an easier time locating the equivalent of their military jobs “on the outside” while others may have skills that don’t directly translate into private sector jobs. Still others have no interest in carrying on in a career similar to their military work.
These factors will determine your immediate direction following separation from the military; you have to choose whether or not to seek a new degree or certification, make contacts in the career fields you are interested in working, and examine job boards to see what’s available.
State job locator resources, “dot-gov” websites that offer employment help for veterans, and typical job hunting websites such Monster or Glassdoor are an excellent way to do research, even from a remote assignment overseas, but it’s also important to examine your options for Civil Service or federal employment sites such as USAJobs. You may be surprised at how many of your current skills may be useful in federal positions.
If you choose to return to or begin a college degree program, you’ll want to know what state and local education benefits are available above and beyond the GI Bill, and you will need to be mindful of your chosen college’s application deadlines-some of which could be much earlier than you expect.
Some applicants find themselves applying for college programs, apprenticeships, or OJT programs before they even have a retirement ceremony or get separation orders; this will prevent delays in getting your new life started.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News