For veterans who retire after 20 years (or more) of military service, the transition to civilian life can be a huge change. Transitioning out of the military usually requires moving the family, medical paperwork, careful budgeting, a job search, and sometimes completing higher education. It includes one life-changing decision after another. We talked with several veterans who have been through the process to get their reactions about the pros and cons of life after uniform.
Preparing for transition
Veterans agree that when it comes to planning for military retirement, it’s important to start early. Responses ranged from starting 18 months out up to eight years!
Retired Marine Chris Boice, who transitioned at the end of 2018, began planning for his retirement a few years in advance.
“A little more than 18 months out I realized I needed an exit strategy,” he said. “Get to a Transition Readiness Seminar as soon as you possibly can. Lots of people go in acting like it’s a waste of a week, but keep an open mind and take lots of notes. There are tons of programs out there to help you, and your first exposure comes from these courses.”
“I took some time and decided on Information Technology. I found programs to get me certifications and talked to industry people at a few networking events. Then I started to narrow down the specifics of my studies, and it’s been a journey for about six months,” Boice explained.
Curtez Riggs, who retired from the Army, began even earlier. “At my 15-year mark, I made the conscious decision that I would retire at 20 and started to forecast what I wanted my exit to look like.”
Travis Collier, who has published a book on the transition process called Command Your Transition, recommends beginning to plan halfway through the military career.
“Going through TAPS in 2012, I realized how ill-prepared I was to truly leave the uniform behind. Transitioning must be a full-time job in the last three-to-six months you’re in uniform. That’s the level of effort you need to succeed.”
Advice for a smoother transition
There are so many factors to consider when planning for civilian life. Veterans recommend a combination of seeking support, staying organized, and including your family in the process. Boice suggests using a Veterans Service Officer to file your VA Disability claim.
“My VSO guided me through what is and what isn’t a rateable disability. They can file your claim for you and help with any appeals that may be necessary.”
Collier focuses on three different strategies in his book: LIFO (Last In, First Out), Canvas and Study. He says, “Pick a strategy that resonates with where you are, when you intend to leave the uniform, and gives you a prescriptive path towards achievement. Then get moving.”
Riggs recommends reaching out and networking with other veterans who can serve as valuable mentors. He also reminds service members to include their family in decisions: “You’re not the only one transitioning. Place your loved ones at the forefront of the decision. Include them into the process because you’ll need their support.”
Job searches are no joke
Most veterans transitioning from military to civilian life seek a second career. Too often, veterans think their only job skills are related to their MOS. Not only does this restrict the job search, but it may also make them feel that careers using new skills are unattainable. Boice reminds other veterans that “by reading and utilizing the resources available, I’ve learned that you should apply if you’re within two years of the required experience and can accomplish most of the job requirements.”
That’s why resume preparation and resume writing are some of the most important tasks for a transitioning veteran. Thankfully, there are numerous resources available to help veterans in the job search. Military base transition offices offer resume classes. LinkedIn provides valuable connections. You should show your resume to other veterans, ideally those who are already in your desired career field. They can give you valuable feedback and tell you what verbiage to include. Riggs adds, “Choose those who not only excelled in uniform but learned how to succeed outside of it.”
Pros and cons of retirement life
When veterans leave the military, they lose a community and lifestyle that has been their identity for years. The military community provides a unique sense of family, too. After transitioning, some veterans struggle with the identity adjustment. Riggs summed it up poignantly: “The most difficult thing is that the Army goes rolling along. You’re raised believing that the mission can’t happen without you. Yet, not only are your replaceable, you’re easily forgotten once your services are no longer required. Losing that bond—the relationships—that’s been the most difficult part for me.”
But life after the uniform has perks. A more traditional job usually means not getting up as early, and no mandatory PT. It allows service members more time to themselves to pursue new hobbies and careers, or discover skills beyond their military job description. They can build their own community, having a greater amount of impact.
Boice says, “The best part is taking a break and having time to focus on my goals and plan out my future. I never really had time to focus on that while I was in the military.”
Life after the uniform is an adjustment, but it means veterans can finally choose their own priorities and their future.
Resources for transitioning vets
TAP (Transition Assistance Program) is a DoD program available on most military bases. Service members can attend more than once, and though it is optional for family members, attendance is highly encouraged.
Take a LinkedIn class, preferably one that hires a photographer, so you can get a professional headshot done to include on all your profiles and resumes if necessary.
Hiring Our Heroes hosts these types of events around the U.S.
The USO has a program sponsored by Google, called the “Google IT Support Professional” that is currently free to transitioning service members. The USO Pathfinder program sets you up with a career counselor to guide you on your path to success after service.
Mentoring opportunities are available through the Veteran Mentor Network on LinkedIn, American Corporate Partners or Veterati, which offers free, one-hour mentoring sessions with former veterans.
Immersion programs like VETTED, Shift, Breakline, Stanford Ignite, Fourblock, and Boots to Business allow veterans to develop workplace skills and experience.
DOD Skillbridge, approved by limited military units, is an opportunity to intern or work on your transition out of the uniform.
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