Finding yourself facing an involuntary separation from the military can be a heartbreaking experience. You’ve invested years training or developing a skill set, received spotless performance evaluations, and have a clean disciplinary record only to find yourself being detached from a career that you love.
Or, maybe you’re still serving on active duty and think you’re safe from ever having to worry about leaving the service before you’re ready. As the old saying goes, “plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
Whether you’re presently facing an involuntary separation or currently active duty, make sure that you have a plan and are ready for life on the “other side.” Here’s how to prepare for an involuntary separation:
If you’re currently serving active duty, know that involuntary separations can happen for a variety of reasons: military troop reductions, failure to be promoted, health problems, family issues, and disciplinary reasons. Some of which can be completely out of your control – leaving you in a situation you never thought you’d face. Because of that, make sure that you’re spending your time and money wisely while still receiving military benefits.
- Build a nest egg and save for retirement. Make sure that you are contributing to your Thrift Savings Plan and simultaneously putting away money each paycheck for a “rainy day.” That day, in this instance, is an involuntary separation. Transitioning out of the military siphons time, money, and resources while you’re looking for employment, finding housing, and navigating the VA claims system plus taking care of your family. Having a jump start in your retirement account and enough money saved to cover a few month’s salary will go a long way.
- Similarly, make sure that you are taking advantage of the education benefits the military offers. Doing so now can make you more hirable if you find yourself looking for work outside of the service. Talk to your education service officer or command career counselor about your options or visit Military OneSource for help getting started.
If you’re currently facing an involuntary separation, first, know your rights and speak to someone about your options. Contact your Judge Advocate or make an appointment with a military lawyer. You might be entitled to an appeal, time to correct the issue specified in your notice of counseling, or have a case for the Discharge Review Board. Don’t blindly sign everything you receive – have it reviewed first by a professional and know what your options are.
- Depending on the reason for the separation, you might be entitled to severance pay. Check if you qualify and contact your legal counsel to help you take the steps to receive payment.
- Get copies of all medical and personnel records before separating as these are much harder to obtain once you’ve transitioned out of the military. Medical records are especially important as you will need them to file a claim with the VA and receive any disability benefits. If you need help filing a claim with the VA, reach out to your local veterans service organization who can assist you for free.
- Have copies of any training or certifications you’ve received while in the service as these can translate to college credits and/or entitle you to skills waiver licenses and other certifications in certain career fields. Additionally, you might be eligible for apprenticeship and internship programs to help you develop your skills – many of these programs provide paid training and job offers upon completion. Check here to see what veteran benefits, including employment and education, are offered in your state.
- Meet with a transition counselor and attend transition classes via the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Initiated by the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, this program is legally required for separating or retiring service members. TAP provides service members preparing to enter the civilian workforce with useful information such as pre-separation counseling, relocation assistance, professional career development, help with resume writing, VA benefits briefings, and more. Military spouses are also eligible to attend classes, space permitting. To get started, contact your military installation’s family readiness center.
And, lastly, know that you are not alone. Being involuntarily separated might make you feel a variety of emotions including depression and embarrassment, but know that you don’t have to face the road ahead by yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling or other support groups/service organizations to share your experience, get advice from veterans who have been in your shoes, or get help transitioning to civilian life. You are not the first person to face an involuntary separation and you will not be the last – you will survive this.
Kristen Baker-Geczy is a communications specialist, active duty military spouse, and former MWR marketing coordinator. She was also deployed to Southwest Asia as an Air Force contractor.