Military Transition to Civilian Life

Updated: July 30, 2021
In this Article

    If you are getting ready to leave the military, you’ll want to find information and advice about transitioning from military life back to life among civilians. During the transition, there are many things to prepare for, places you can find support, and even help finding a job. The information below will inform transitioning military and spouses about the most important steps to take and resources available to prepare for life as a civilian.

    Ok, returning to the civilian world is a little scarier than it sounds. But don’t worry! The best thing you can do for you and your family is to gather as much information as possible prior to actually transitioning out of the military. The “transition” period is usually during terminal leave, however, the actual transition can take a little longer than the short length of terminal leave. Here are some ways to get organized and to ensure the smoothest transition possible. The most important thing is simple: stay positive.

    First, face the change.

    You are here: You receive any combination of the following: base pay, BAH, BAS, COLA, FLPP, and maybe another specialized pay or two. You receive an annual uniform allowance. You have a stable job. You have health insurance. You have dental insurance. Plus a few more perks.

    When transitioning: You will be in a little place called limbo: Mostly, you will be confronted with question after question. Where will I live? What will I do? Should I go back to school? What about my family? And the list goes on—but don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, take it one step at a time.

    Make a plan: This is a given, and you’ve probably heard it more than once. Try to start planning about a year out from your known end of service date, and be sure to incorporate terminal leave if that is the route you choose. If you know you want to go back to school, try to apply a year early so that you can start almost as soon as you’re out. Don’t be afraid to start applying to jobs – but before you do that, spend time on your resume and learn how to write a proper cover letter because these are the contemporary forms of “first impressions.”

    Save: If you haven’t been saving for your transition out of the military, start now, and here’s how. Although the military pays for your move, the costs are only covered for travel to your home of record, and anything further will be out-of-pocket. Don’t let this discourage you from choosing a different state – you can plan for this. Also, the military will only pay for one car to be shipped (if need be). Keep this potential financial strain in mind as you may want to sell any additional vehicles or find an alternative way of shipping. The car will go to the port closest to your home of record and will need to be retrieved from there. If you plan to send someone other than yourself to retrieve the POV (privately owned vehicle), then be sure to specify this person when you drop off the car for shipment. Also, the military will not pay to ship your pets.

    There will be unexpected expenses: You will have to wait for your home goods. If you are shipping from overseas, you will have to wait longer. Try to pack things that you will need while waiting for your home goods to arrive. Certainly, you can’t just fold up your mattress into a suitcase, but consider stuffing a duffle with some pillows and blankets. Kitchen items will be packed away too, so you may have to buy a pan or two to make do until your items arrive, and it’s a good idea to keep important documents with you in case of emergencies.

    When the movers come to pack your home goods: Be there and pay attention. If you’ve already moved a few times, then you know this. If not, review these tips. These movers go fast so sometimes they miss an item or two in a bathroom cabinet, but sometimes they miss entire kitchen cabinets. It would be better to have an extra set of eyes or two to ensure that everything is getting packed.

    Next: Stay positive. Do not be afraid to reach out to your colleagues who are also transitioning or have already done so. Take the transitioning process one day at a time and stay active in whatever you have chosen to pursue. Try to keep your same workout routine if you can. Wake up in the morning, have your coffee, and get busy.

    When job searching, set goals: Today, I will apply to 3 jobs. There are great resources to help find jobs for transitioning military, including veteran-specific re-employment resources,  transitioning job assistance programs offered by the military, and military-friendly employers who want to help.

    If you are applying to schools, set goals: This week, I will research three schools. Look at the programs they offer, do any of them interest you? Look at their credibility and be sure they are regionally accredited. You might want to see which colleges are veteran-friendly. They provide awesome support to members leaving the military.

    If you are looking for homes, take it slow: Be sure you have researched the area, visited the area, and maybe even spoken with a few locals in passing. You should definitely find out if you are eligible for a VA Home Loan if you are looking to buy.

    If you are starting a business, be a go-getter.

    Resources During Transition

    Utilize the resources offered to you during the transition. Each branch of service, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, offers a variety of seminars and materials, some of which are mandatory and some that are not, to aid you in your transition. They offer resume and cover letter writing classes, interview preparations, career counseling, educational counseling, job search, etc. Take advantage of the resume and cover letter writing classes because civilians will not know what you mean when you say ETS, PCS, or any other military acronym.

    Benefits of Being a Veteran

    Being a veteran offers a lot more than you might think (think about moving to a military-friendly state). The very day after your terminal leave ends, you are no longer a service member but a veteran. Welcome, and thank you for your service. Although most military contracts, with a few exceptions, include the remaining 2-4 years of IRR (Individual Ready Reserve), all of your regular active service benefits end, and your veteran’s benefits begin. The IRR will require you to keep your information updated, such as address and phone number, just in case the need arises to recall all troops back to service, but otherwise, it does not pose too many obligations.

    Here are some things to look forward to:

    GI Bill: Depending on the percentage of benefits you are eligible to receive, based on your years of service, you can use your GI Bill, which not only covers school tuition, fees, and books, but also provides Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) based on the school’s zip code. Veterans can even receive MHA when enrolled full time for an online degree.

    VA Health Care: Enroll in your free health care. You can do this in person at your local VA Medical Center, or online at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. Thanks to the recent Affordable Care Act, there is no need to enroll in additional health care coverage to meet the nation’s standards and to declare health coverage when filing your taxes. Unfortunately, VA Health Care does not extend to dependents and is only valid for the veteran. If you have dependents, look into your state’s health care as you are most likely eligible for Medicaid due to your recent unemployment status.

    Disability: You can file claims for injuries received during your time in service, physical or psychological. These claims are assessed after a few visits to the doctor, and you are then notified of your eligibility.

    Life InsuranceVeterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) is available to continue for most veterans and is much less expensive than other civilian options for Life Insurance. Many will receive information in the mail, or you can enroll online. Apply during the first 120 days after your departure date to avoid extra unnecessary health questions. The process is similar to that of the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI).

    Home Loans: This is a great benefit to have in your back pocket when you find yourself a civilian looking for a place to live. Before applying, be sure you are ready to be a homeowner. It will help if you research schools in the area, job opportunities, accessibility, and even the weather. It’s easy to buy a home, but it’s not nearly as easy to sell one.

    The VA does not offer small business loans, but it does recommend going through the Small Business Administration (SBA) if you are starting a business. Don’t forget you can also look to your military friendly banks for this kind of support, such as USAA and Navy Federal.

    Veterans License Plates: Now, this does not come with any special privileges per se, aside from the occasional parking spot dedicated to veterans in mall parking lots, but it may make you feel connected to your brothers and sisters in arms. You can also have a veterans indicator placed on your driver’s license.

    Store discounts: Always ask if a store has a military discount. Many businesses extend their discounts to veterans. Although the discount is not usually more than 10%, it can still take a bit off the bill.



    About The AuthorNatalie Zummo is a US Army veteran and wife of a Marine Corps veteran. She is currently living with her husband and son in New Hampshire, writing and studying in her free hours. Natalie holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and is underway to a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with a focus on Military Counseling.


    Written by Veteran.com Team

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