A Guide to Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life
Contributed by LA Police Gear
According to the Department of Defense, about 1,300 military members transition out of military careers and into civilian life each year, and studies show that nearly two-thirds of them reported that the transition was difficult. Data points to a few different reasons for this—lack of resources for former soldiers, physical and emotional traumas relating to their time served, and the fact that businesses simply don’t seem to understand the needs of these uniquely skilled candidates.
If you’re planning on making the big transition, know one thing before all else: You’re not alone. While it may feel like it, there are a number of places you can, and should, look to for support. This will help you reintegrate into a civilian neighborhood, community, and job so you can set yourself up for a stable, successful life outside the service. We’re here to help you make the process move as smoothly as possible for our heroic American military members who are separating from the forces.
Leverage Your Resources
If you’re just beginning to toy with the idea of leaving your unit, it’s a good idea to seek advice and support from the professionals or those who have gone through this transition themselves. Some of the best places to look for assistance include:
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) – The VA’s TAP program exists for the sole purpose of helping vets reintegrate into regular life. In practice, this means providing soldiers with the tools, training, and resources they need to find housing and work outside the military. Visit your local transition office to see what this program can do for you or use their online tools throughout the transition process.
Installation Briefings – Your installation should have occasional briefings to provide transitioning soldiers with advice and assistance before they re-enter civilian society. These briefings may offer tools on how to dress for interviews, use the internet for job-hunting, properly negotiate, etc. Your installation should also provide you and your spouse with one-on-one assistance for up to 180 days after discharge.
USAA Transition Checklist – The USAA has become much more than just a bank an insurer to military families. They also provide many vital skills to help aid in the transition. For example, they offer a useful step-by-step transition checklist that you can customize to meet your transition timeline, goals, and budget. The association also offers a separation assessment tool and savings options to help make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Transition Assistance Organizations – In addition to VA-funded resources, there are also a number of independent nonprofits and groups that exist specifically for aiding military members during their transitional period. Here is a great list of some groups that do this kind of work. It includes many of the veteran’s organizations you’re already familiar with, including the American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project, and the USO.
Vets Who Have Made the Transition – While you’re still living on base and surrounded by military members, try to connect with one or two vets who have recently made the transition. They, most likely, will be much more aware of the immediate challenges, tricks, and resources than anyone who works for the above programs. You can even do this online through digital military mentorship programs like Veterati and eMentor.
Leverage Your Skills
As a member of the armed forces, you undoubtedly learned many unique skills that prepared you for your next endeavor. Teamwork, preparedness, strategic thinking, problem-solving, physical strength—these are all in your wheelhouse, and employers will be able to put them to good use.
Consider WARTAC – The Warrior Training Advancement Course (WARTAC) is a collaborative program between the VA and the Department of Defense that exists to train transitioning warriors to work for the VA, primarily processing disability claims. Though this may not serve your long-term career goals, it can certainly provide you with some solid, stable work while you’re easing back into civilian life or while you’re doing job training or taking college classes.
Get Your VMET – Your Verification of Military Experiences and Training (form DD 2586) serves as an overview of your entire military career and training record, complete with any specialty training, awards, and certificates. You should have this on hand, alongside your DD 214, to add to your resumés, job applications, and online job sites. The TAP can help with obtaining these documents if you don’t have them on hand.
Play Up Your Experience – Even though it may not seem like your intrepid military skills would be considered desirable in a typical civilian work environment, such as in an office, the traits you’ve honed while in the service are extremely attractive to most employers. Be sure to make your military service—and the skills you gleaned from it—the crown jewel of your resumé. Just make sure not to lay the military jargon on too thick in a way that’s alienating to potential employers.
Go for Military-Friendly Fields – Inherently, some fields of work are much friendlier to vets than others. For example, many members of the military transition directly into law enforcement—about 19 percent of police officers served—and first response work. Though the police gear and tactical skills required for the job definitely cross over from one field to another, there are differences to consider. What’s more, veterans should have an in-depth psychological evaluation before entering this field, as the high-stress nature could re-trigger certain traumas.
Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier
Many veterans struggle with their identities when they leave the armed forces. One thing that’s important to remember when you take this big leap is that, just because you’re no longer considered active duty, it doesn’t mean you’re no longer a soldier. Your time served was not in vain, especially if you use everything you learned to set yourself up for the post-service life you’ve always wanted. Ideally, the skills and experiences you took from your service will propel you to exciting new avenues in civilian life.