Military to Civilian Transition Tips and Resources
There comes a time in the life of every service member to make the shift from the military back to the civilian world. When you first decided to join the armed forces, it was undoubtedly a major transition, from the intense training involved to the highly structured nature of day-to-day activities and performance improvements. Now that you’re going back to a world that’s not as regimented, it can take some time getting accustomed to how things were — both for you as well as your family and friends. According to a 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center, more than 45% of veterans who left the service after September 2001 found it “somewhat” or “very hard” to make the military transition to civilian life. This compared to just 21% who struggled but retired prior to September 2001.
From finding a job that matches your qualifications to becoming reacquainted with what it’s like to be at home for good, or going from active duty to full-time parent duty, this transition affects all military members a little bit differently. If you’re in the military, transition to civilian life may still be a ways away from now, or you might be in the midst of it. Either way, be patient with yourself and accept that there may be some bumps in the road. If you go into it prepared and complemented with the right tools and mindset, it will help make for a much smoother pathway to normalcy.
What are the biggest challenges facing today’s military veterans?
Before getting into the specifics of how to cope and acclimate to civilian life, it’s important to learn what aspects of civilian life that veterans find to be the most difficult. Frequently, the hardest are social in nature, such as a sense of not feeling accepted by others and society at large. As the aforementioned poll done by the Pew Research Center discovered, 44% of veteran respondents said they didn’t think they received the appropriate level of respect from others for having volunteered to serve their country. Approximately 15% of veterans said they felt this way frequently, particularly within the first few years of having left the military service. This may be surprising, given that several polls consistently show the military are held in very high regard by most Americans. A 2019 survey from Gallup found nearly 80% of adults were satisfied with the country’s armed forces — more than any other aspect of the United States’ makeup — in terms of their strength, capability and overall preparedness.
Structure — or lack thereof — is another bone of contention for veterans making the transition. Nearly one-third of veteran respondents said the unstructured nature of civilian life was hard on them, with almost 10% acknowledging this as a common problem.
Re-establishing relationships with friends and family can also be tough, and not just for members of the military, transition to civilian life can be a challenge for children and spouses as well. Approximately 33% of veterans said they felt disconnected from loved ones upon leaving the military, according to the Pew Research Center survey.
What may be a predictor of those and other transition issues is if service members encountered any emotionally traumatic experiences while on duty, whether overseas or stationed in the U.S. For example, the poll found that 22% of respondents who felt distant from their family and friends had dealt with emotionally harrowing events while they were in the service full-time. This compared to just 2% who attested to these feelings despite not having undergone anything traumatic.
The difference was similarly stark for those who did and didn’t encounter structural problems. Only 4% of those who did not have such struggles in the military said they had a hard time with not knowing what to do with themselves, compared to 22% who did and also had emotional hardships while in the service.
Why do veterans often struggle to find jobs?
Over the years, a common problem that the formerly active duty members of the military transitioning to civilian life is employment; they struggle either finding a job or identifying one that they truly enjoy. According to government data, approximately a quarter-million military service members each year move from the armed forces to the workforce.
While there may not be a single factor as to why the switch can be difficult, some veterans believe it may have something to do with the service not properly preparing them for the transition back to civilian life (even though this is something that the military attempts to do). Just 29% indicated in the Pew Research Center poll that their military service was “very useful” in terms of providing them with the training to obtain a civilian job. However this is hardly a widely shared belief among service members, since nearly 80% of former commissioned officers said their rank and training proved to be helpful to them as a jobseeker.
Regardless of the ultimate reason and whether you’ve been through it, the struggle for many is real — and so are their financial hardships. Approximately 35% of veteran respondents in the Pew poll said they had trouble paying bills in the first few years after their military transition to civilian life. And 28% were out of work for so long that they had to file for unemployment benefits to remain financially solvent given their existing financial and familial responsibilities.
Be it social, job-related, economic or emotional in nature, these are some of the trials that military members such as yourself may encounter when you transition from active duty service member to full-time veteran. How can you go about ensuring that you don’t face these same adversities? While there is no silver bullet — this wouldn’t be an ongoing issue if there was — there are a variety of resources you can leverage to make the switch more seamless. Many of them are available online for added convenience.
Tap into the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program
Spearheaded by the Department of Defense, the Transition Assistance Program has been in place for several years now. Its purpose is to provide service members with the confidence, resources and skill sets they need to re-enter the workforce, launch their own business or advance their academic careers, whether that is with an undergraduate degree or graduate degree for those who’ve already obtained a bachelor’s. This is made possible by participating in a multidisciplinary curriculum that, as the website states, “transforms the way the military prepares service members for transition back to civilian life.”
Participating service members go about this by completing a series of Career Readiness Standards, or CRS. As their description suggests, these are designed to provide service members with the training and understandings that can help make the switch to civilian life simpler.
Participation in CRS is mandatory for anyone who is retiring from the military and has maintained active duty service for 180 days or more.
For more information on what the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program includes and how you can go about with registration, visit the website and scroll to the “Career Readiness Standards (CRS) Overview Info Sheet” link on the left hand side of the page. Military spouses can also participate in the program if desired.
Discover your professional passion with a DD Form 2586
If there is one thing that the military aims to do, it’s to improve service members’ capabilities and competencies. But making active duty more well-rounded only helps to increase their options rather than narrow down what they’re best at. In short, if you’re multi-talented or can’t decide on a career that is the best fit, you may want to obtain a DD Form 2586. Also available through TAP, the DD Form 2586 is what you need to take a self-assessment. Your answers will help dictate where your strengths lie. Additionally, filling out this document will also provide assistance with essentials like job applications, resume construction and applying to college.
At the same time, you may want to consider positions that other veterans commonly fill these days. As compiled by Business Insider, here are several of them, along with each career’s average annual salary:
- Registered nurse – $66,413 per year
- Elected official – $45,647 per year
- Intelligence specialist – $74,533 per year
- Information security analyst – $54,495 per year
- Accountant – $59,139 per year
- Teacher – $41,515 per year
- Corrections officer – $56,427 per year
- Retail associate – $25,519 per year
- Maintenance technician – $27,246 per year
- Warehouse worker – $26,749 per year
Some of these positions require no previous experience or training, while others — like accounting and nursing — may entail both academic qualifications and on-the job experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains a database of thousands of occupations that provides details not only of what these jobs pay and the responsibilities involved, but also what you need to do to become one, such as educational requirements. Simply search for any profession into the search bar at the top right of the page.
Learn how your military job correlates to civilian life
From ACP (Armored Command Post) to WSO (Weapons System Operator) or XO (Executive Officer) abbreviations and acronyms are the name of the game in the military. They’re so ubiquitous and commonplace, you may not exactly know how they translate (literally) to the civilian world. That’s where the Military Skills Translator can be useful. The Military Skills Translators is a database that allows you to type in what your military job title is, select your branch and then hit search.
For instance, say that your official position in the Army is or was Special Forces Weapons Sergeant, the abbreviation of which is SF Wpns SGT. If you plug that in to the search bar, a list of similar civilian jobs will come up and where they’re located. In this example, potential equivalents include training and development manager, training coordinator, director of operations and research and development manager.
You can narrow down the search criteria to make it more personalized to you, including criteria such as location and subspecialities.
This online resource, available at Military.com, is free to use and is updated regularly.
Seek out employers known to hire veterans
As the aforementioned Gallup poll showed, most Americans are effusive about their love and respect for the military; the same goes for many businesses. Indeed, from investment banks (like JPMorgan Chase) to corporate media conglomerates (such as The Walt Disney Company) to convenience stores chains (such as 7-Eleven), thousands of household name companies are registered Military Friendly companies. This distinction is an indication to consumers that they prioritize the hiring of all those who volunteered to serve in the armed forces. While there is no 100% guarantee of being hired by any company, you may have better odds of getting your foot in the door at these companies than others. Take a look at the most recently updated list to see if any of the companies you would enjoy working for are listed as Military Friendly employers. You may be able to find additional information at that organization’s website that speaks to how military veterans are given priority status compared to other job seekers.
Refine your resume
While many employers require a cover letter in addition to a resume, your curriculum vitae is usually the first thing that business owners examine when they’re in hiring mode. Resumes serve as a snapshot into who you are, where you’ve been and what capabilities you possess, thus making you a valuable addition to their team.
If you haven’t examined your resume in a while, take the time to make some updates to it that may be relevant to a particular job. For example, employers are always in search of candidates who possess leadership qualities. If you can cite one or two instances where you led your unit or regiment, be sure to include those examples and when they occurred. If they require elaboration, try to summarize them as best as you can so your prospective employer has the proper context. Ideally, your resume should be no longer than a page, so aim for brevity. If you’re contacted and an interview is scheduled, that can be a good time to talk more about the details of your work history.
The good news is you should have plenty of opportunities to find a job as employers these days are in recruitment mode like never before. According to a poll conducted by Robert Half, which surveyed 2,800 senior managers around the country, 51% of respondents said they intend to increase their hiring efforts throughout the second half of 2021. In some parts of the country, more than 60% of businesses indicated as much, including San Diego and Dallas (62% and 61%, respectively).
Reach out to a friend who’s been there before
You undoubtedly know of someone who has already made the transition to civilian life. They have an understanding of what you’re going through or what you may encounter when the time comes. It’s likely that this individual can offer insight into what they did that made the military transition to civilian life a bit easier. Ask them about what they went through and if they have any recommendations for you. They may be able to point you to resources that will prove useful to you in some capacity, be it personally or professionally.
Weigh your health care options
Health care is the least of your concerns when you’re on active duty. The Veterans Administration has you covered. But assuming you’re not disabled or are injured while on active duty, it ends shortly after your military career concludes. Ideally, your employer will provide you with an employer-sponsored plan, but if not, you may want to consider what’s available through the Affordable Care Act. The Continued Health Care Benefit Program and Transitional Assistance Management Program provides 180 days of premium-free transitional health care benefits once Tricare ends. For more information on eligibility, visit the website.
Military transition to civilian life may be inevitable, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be difficult. For over 50 years, Omni Financial has provided military loans in a variety of sizes to service members who are on active duty or are veterans; the funds can be used however you choose. We love to say yes to eligible applicants’ loan requests, but the same goes for work opportunities. We may have an opening that would be the perfect fit for you.
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