Deciding to leave the military could be as big a step as deciding to join. Most of us arrive when we are young, naive and unprepared. When we go out, we are just as unprepared. Most of us. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
You had what it took to support and defend the United States Constitution. You certainly have what it takes to support yourself and your dependents. Just be smart and ask the right questions. Will you get a civilian job, and if so, will it be the same as you did in the military? Is remote work for you? Or will you go to school? Where are you going to do these things? How will you prepare to pay them while waiting for benefits? Do you know how to enter the VA system?
Regardless of your answers, there are things you need to do in the two years before you leave the military that will ensure a smooth and successful experience.
Two years to 18 months from expiration – Duration of Service (ETS):
- Find a mentor who has experienced the same issues you are likely to encounter.
- Choose your civilian career and make sure you leave the military with a certified training or skill that will help you in this career.
- Find out about your GI bill and decide what you plan to do with it.
- Start saving money and prepare for the possibility of a tight job market when you get out.
- Start building a network by meeting people in your chosen field or university.
One year later :
- Review your pre-separation budget and make sure you’re on track.
- If you go to school after leaving, choose where, what to study and start applying.
- Learn more about VA home loans and the home buying process. If you are moving to a new area, you may be able to get housing search orders.
- Begin the process of exiting the military, which includes briefing your unit and command while beginning relevant paperwork and completing transition assistance courses. An advisor can even be assigned to you.
Another six months:
- Make sure your budget projections still make sense.
- Write a resume, preferably with the help of a career counselor, and use it in your job search. Be sure to show it to your Transition Mentor and your Civilian Career Mentor as well.
- Request your latest shipment of household items. The military will pack up and send your things to your new location or official home one last time.
- Consider your post-military healthcare options. Unless your terms are service-related, your coverage will end. If you have a new employer that offers health care, sign up. You can also find health care coverage on the Affordable Care Act website. Tricare provides temporary health care coverage to newly separated members under the Continuing Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) and the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP).
- Update your wardrobe by relying on your career mentor and the professional network you have developed.
- Decide where you will transfer your blended military retirement savings. For plans worth less than $100,000, consider a fiduciary app like Wealthfront.
- Update your important documents while it’s still free.
- Start your shipments of household goods and other PCS/ETS procedures.
Three months left:
- Start working on your VA compensation claim documents. Declare everything about your discharge medical visit. Your duty station and veterans service organizations (such as DAV) will help you with this process. Some states have offices to help veterans do this.
- Go over your budget one last time to make sure it’s still valid.
- Regardless of your age, review your life insurance options, especially Military Group Life Insurance (SGLI) versus Veteran Group Life Insurance (VGLI).
- Get copies of your medical and dental records to keep.
- Visit your doctor for free one last time.
One month before:
- Choose your mutual.
- Know your home state’s veterans benefits.
- Stay on top of your VA disability claim.
- Continue to look for work using job fairs, LinkedIn and other websites.
- Meet with your school’s veterans benefits office.
It can all be overwhelming if you wait until the last minute to do it all. Remember, staying proactive and making sure you arrive when you’re supposed to will save you from losing your mind as the ETS date approaches.
Then you can truly celebrate a job well done.
Read the full transition guide online here.