Transitions: Preparing to Leave the Military
By Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director
Your family has reached the end of an era. After deployments, exciting duty stations, and countless moves, you are now transitioning out of the military. Whether you’re excited about moving on or feel the bittersweet pangs of leaving a lifestyle you’ve known for five or 30 years, this will be a period of adjustment. It may be stressful to imagine what awaits you in the “outside world,” but by setting goals and developing a transition plan for your whole family, it may be less stressful than you think.
The great news is that no matter where you are in your military career, someone has gone through this process before, paving the way and testing all of the resources available to you. Whether retiring after a lifetime career or leaving military life after several years and deployments, much of the planning required is the same. There are a number of avenues to help you research your benefits, begin a new career, or continue your education. In order to take full advantage of them, it is essential for you to begin this process as soon as possible.
Each of the Service branches has a transition assistance program for retiring or separating service members. The program’s staff is ready to answer questions about Department of Defense (DoD), Service specific, and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. Usually, classes are provided for the transitioning service member. Spouses need to attend, if they can, to understand the benefits available to them, such as the Survivor Benefit Plan. Additionally, two sets of ears can be invaluable when listening to this important information and later incorporating it into your family plan.
DoD has introduced TurboTAP, an easy-to-use, interactive web portal that provides life-long support to separating service members (active duty, Guard, and Reserve) and their families. It is a starting point for accessing key resources available for service members transitioning out of the military at any point in their military careers. TurboTAP is available for life, so service members should establish an account, which gives them access to the online Individual Transition Planning Tool and the following features:
- Downloadable Pre-separation and Transition Guides, helpful checklists, and access to in-person assistance,
- An Employment Hub with links to job boards, a résumé tool, and job search assistance, and
- A VA Benefits Hub with a full range of benefits information, including a focus on health issues.
Information Overload and What to Do About It
DoD and the Service branches have offered all sorts of resources for you and your spouse to help with your transition, be it retirement or separation. You’ve attended every class, accessed all the training websites, listened to every webinar. You’re likely experiencing information overload – what can you do now? Sit down with your spouse and develop a plan that is unique for your family.
Set out your goals for the future. Having experienced this myself, I know this task can be very difficult. The military assignment office has managed your life for the past however many years, telling you where you will be assigned and what professional schools you must attend, essentially managing all aspects of your professional life. It’s startling when you are given the chance to make those “ultimate” decisions on your own.
Where decisions about benefits are concerned, make sure to ask questions until you thoroughly understand the answers. Military retirement comes with many benefits such as retirement pay, continued eligibility for commissary; exchange; morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) programs and healthcare. If you are separating from the military before retirement, your eligibility for these programs ends. While the service member may be receiving medical care through the VA, in most cases family members will not be eligible for care. Factor in these extra costs when making plans.
This article is just to get you started with the planning process. Here are a few questions you should consider.
What Do We Want to be When We Grow Up?
Many service members are lucky enough to land civilian employment without having to leave their military career fields – the military policeman getting a job with civilian law enforcement, for example. Although this can be comforting, some people want a complete change or have worked in a military field that doesn’t translate well into a civilian equivalent. Spouses may not have had the opportunity to develop a career because of frequent moves and deployments. Will reaching for a new employment opportunity require more education, an apprenticeship, or require a license or credential that may take time to acquire before you can be employed?
Research is the key to your new career. Take advantage of job services offered by the Transition Assistance Program. Spouses can use resources like Military OneSource career counseling and the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) to learn about careers they are interested in and translate that into careers for the next stage of their lives. Networking with friends and former unit comrades and neighbors always comes in handy. Not only might they know of job opportunities, but they can share their experiences and help identify some of the pitfalls of the job search. Don’t discount the myriad of programs being set up through the Department of Labor, non-profits and civic groups. Examples can be found at www.militaryfamily.org under Employment links.
Where Do We Want to Live?
Most military families have had the great adventure of living in different areas of the country and even in foreign countries. When it comes to deciding on where you will live after military service, what should you consider? For some, it’s most important to consider the proximity to a military installation in order to have access to military benefits (commissary, exchange, MWR, military hospitals, etc.), keeping your children in the same schools, or the ability to enjoy living in a military community. You may have always planned to move back “home” near extended family, or perhaps the needs of elderly parents may require more attention. In your travels, you may have decided on that perfect region or area of the country, with all the amenities that make you happy. Be it beach living, city dwelling, or someplace out in the country with lots of land, consideration should also be given to where you can find your dream jobs!
If you still have children at home, the quality of their education should still be an important concern. Where are the school districts that will best meet the needs of your children in the area you are choosing? The website www.schoolquest.org, an initiative of the Military Child Education Coalition, can connect you with information such as demographics and test scores to help make an informed decision.
What Is Our Financial Plan?
At times of transition, it is always good to take stock of where your family stands financially. Hopefully, you have taken advantage of savings, investment, and insurance plans for which you were eligible while on active duty or mobilized. Unfortunately, when you retire or separate, eligibility ends for such programs as the military Thrift Savings Plan, Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI), and Family Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (FSGLI). Set up a time to meet with the financial counselors available through the installation family service center or state family program office to help determine how you can create or maintain similar coverage once you leave military service. They can give you a good working plan and some familiarity with terms and expectations before you meet with a commercial financial planner.
More Planning = Less Stress
This is a huge decision. Retiring or separating from the service is stressful. In today’s environment, you may be making the decision to separate on your own, or others may be making this decision for you. Taking the time to plan and taking advantage of all the resources that the military and the VA have to offer will help alleviate some of the pain and stress. It’s not easy, but if you work as family to develop a plan that meets your family’s goals, you can have a more successful transition from military to civilian life.
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