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5 Steps for Planning Your Life After the Military

(U.S. Air Force /Senior Airman Eydie Sakura)
(U.S. Air Force /Senior Airman Eydie Sakura)

Whether your tour lasted a couple years or a couple decades, you probably harbor some trepidation to reenter the civilian world.

Indeed, military service is a unique lifestyle with different relationships and unusual responsibilities. Once you have grown accustomed to living successfully in a military environment, transitioning to civilian life might seem strange and uncomfortable.

How do you interact with people who lack military experience? Where do you look for a job and salary? What do you do first?

Fortunately, there have are millions of vets who left service before you, and most of them integrated into the real world without significant issues. If you aren’t sure where to begin your life after the military, this guide can help.

Understand Your Value

Even if you were an inexperienced, untrained pair of hands, you would be valuable. However, thanks to your military tenure — which undeniably included copious training both in hard skills like tech and in soft skills like communication, self-motivation, and leadership — you are worth much more. You must consider your value to the non-military world and your future employer before you begin establishing a civilian life. Not only will this help you find appropriate positions and salaries, but it will keep your spirits up as you transition into the real world.

First, you should make a list of your transferrable skills. Many of the skills you gained in the military are applicable to careers on the outside — it is just a matter of wording your abilities in the appropriate way. For example, if you managed a repair department, you might be ideally suited to manufacturing and operations jobs; if you trained fellow servicemembers in using weapons, machines, and other technologies, you might apply your experience to corporate training programs. Transition Assistance Programs offered through government departments can help you identify your skills and point you toward worthwhile careers.

Survey Your Finances

The military provides all sorts of financial benefits to those who serve and their families, but if you joined up when you were young and dumb, you might not have managed your money well. As you prepare for your life after the military, you must take a close, harsh look at your finances to determine how much you have and how much you need.

First, you should peer into your savings accounts. At the very least, you should have a checking account, an emergency fund with a years’ worth of expenses, and a retirement account. If you have none of these — and worse, if you have debts — there is no need to panic. Your next step should be to engage in military debt relief programs, like the Servicemember Civil Relief Act, which caps your interest rates on debts accrued prior to service. Then, you can work toward paying down your debts while building up your savings.

Undoubtedly, you will eventually be interested in buying a car, a house, and other staples of regular life, which might necessitate obtaining more debt. To avoid falling back into a financial pit, you should carefully research potential loans, participating only in reliable programs like HARP finance. As long as you make responsible purchases, you shouldn’t fear debt.

Keep the Future Secure

After you leave the military and before you get a job, you will be eligible for TRICARE, which is the health insurance offered to transitioning servicemembers. Later, if TRICARE expires and you and your family still lack alternative health insurance, you can apply for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program, which is another temporary health coverage option for vets. Eventually, though, you will need to acquire your own insurance plan to keep you and your family safe. It’s also important to note, if you served in the active military service and were separated under any condition other than dishonorable, you may qualify for VA health care benefits.

Typically, employers will provide discounts on medical, dental, and disability insurance, but if you become self-employed or work for a startup or small business, you can find affordable plans in the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace — as of this writing. You should also seriously consider acquiring life insurance; Veterans’ Group Life Insurance is one of the best options for new vets, and there is no medical underwriting requirement if you apply for a plan within 120 days of retirement.

Maintain a Network

Unlike in the military, in civilian life, who you know is as important as what you know and how you behave. Networking doesn’t come naturally to many people — especially not vets who already struggle to relate to civilians. Fortunately, you already have a strong, widespread network to rely on: fellow veterans. As long as you can maintain ties with military buddies, whether you served together or not, you should be able to find good, paying work for the rest of your career.

Be Social

Finally, the non-military world is not all work and no play. Just as leave was essential for maintaining your sanity during your tour, it is vital that you take time off from your civilian job to enjoy the people who love and support you. By keeping an active social life, you will feel more relaxed and fulfilled, and your transition will be smoother and more secure.

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Military Transition