Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life: A Few Tips from a Veteran Who Did it the Hard Way

Going to boot camp was a bit scary. For many of us, we were leaving home for the first time, getting ready for a life that had who knows what in store for us. Would we end up at war, or just far from home in some crappy city? Well, all that has passed by now and the time has come to separate from whatever branch you joined (just for the record, you should’ve gone Navy…. just saying).

[quote_right]”Leaving is just as, if not scarier than, the decision to join.”[/quote_right]Leaving is just as, if not scarier than, the decision to join (in some ways). When you joined, they helped you to become a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman over a course of several weeks to months. If you are lucky, you will get a few days of learning how to become a civilian after all you have been through. It is my hope that by reading this, you will be better prepared to rejoin the “Real World” and make the transition a smooth one.

School or Work
So what’s first? Well, I guess that would be deciding to get out. Once you have done that, then you have to start working on becoming a civi with as much time left as possible. Remember, the support to go into the military will be far greater than the support you receive when you choose to get out, and time management is very important. Now that you know you are getting out and making the most out of your time, you need to be able to focus your efforts. Are you going to work, go to school, or try to do both? The G.I. Bill will help support you if you are a full time student, but for many, it is not enough if they do not have some additional form of income, so relying on just school money is probably not the best bet.

Hire MeIf you are looking to work, you want to start looking for new jobs with as much time ahead of you as you can manage. And do not stop when you have one job offer. It is better to tell two or three employers that a different job came through than it is to be scrambling to find a job because one fell through with no back-ups. If possible, while still on active duty, get certified in something. EMT, electrician, anything that you can obtain where you are stationed that can be used wherever you go for your final PCS. For job interviews, use up some of that saved leave. Rather than taking a huge chunk of terminal leave, which you earn less for because you no longer qualify for your incentive pays, use that leave while on active duty for interviews, viewing houses, etc… and earn full pay for it while getting everything lined up and squared away for your new life.

In most cases, whether you decide to work or not, you will take up some school so you can have a better job. Find the closest school that has the highest BAH as it will pay the highest BAH on the G.I. Bill as well. Balance that against reviews as to how well that school works with veterans. Yes, some schools work with Vets way better than others and have veteran liaisons that will get you the most bang for your Bill. Higher education is a double edged sword, though. After separating from the military, you can apply for unemployment; however, in some states, if you are going to school, they will decide that you are not eligible for full time work (because no service member had a full time job, full time school, and pulled extra duty before) and will not grant the unemployment. So, if you choose to go to school, make sure your state will allow that with unemployment, if that is the route you want to take.

Moving
So, now the actual move is here. Take the military up on everything they offer for PCS at your pay grade. Ship every pound, collect every bit of leave, and use all the resources available. It is there for you. Make sure everything is ready to be packed if you are having the movers do it for you and that service is offered in your area. I felt more comfortable packing my own stuff and just having them load it into the truck, but some movers will go through everything and make sure it is properly packed, so you may be wasting effort to pack your own house. If there is one thing that burned me though, it would be not taking out additional insurance on my goods for the move. The movers are held liable by your branch of service, but as with all things military, a lot of red tape and waiting is involved if and when the movers lose or damage your goods. Additional insurance is relatively cheap and helps cover you from loss. Trust me… it really sucks when two of your boxes don’t show up at the new house and the DoD has more red tape than a minefield to get it back.

Now that the house is packed and you are ready to go, there are a few things that should ride with you and not the movers. Any medals, ribbons, challenge coins, etc… that you earned and are hard or impossible to be replaced should be handle by you only. Guess what was in those two boxes that never showed up at my new house? Your dress uniform should ride with you as well. Who knows, you made need or want it again someday. The spouse and kids should also probably go with you. I am not sure if the offer it in your area, but I wouldn’t trust my kids not to hurt the movers.

My final note would be to use up everything that the military offers for those who separate. I know this was already covered, but it should not be overlooked. Any separation classes, medical services, leave, resume writing courses, interview skill workshops, etc… that they offer should be used. After all, you paid for it with your years of service!

Seth Belt

Seth grew up in Southern Arizona before joining the U.S. Navy. While serving in the Navy, Seth was an anti-narcotics operator and an anti-submarine operator for 5 years. He was lucky enough to travel to many of the Central and South American countries, as well as visiting many South East Asian nations and islands. One of Seth’s greatest joys from his time in the Navy was teaching new Sailors firearms education and safety. After leaving the Navy in 2010, Seth returned to Arizona and had a rough time learning how to be a civilian again, often working jobs that could barely pay the bills. After going to school, Seth became an Emergency Medical Technician in the Phoenix Valley, where he now lives with his wife and son.His areas of knowledge cover military, firearms, and emergency medicine.
Seth Belt
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