Deciding to leave the military might be as big a step as deciding to join. Most of us come in when we’re young, naive, and unprepared. When we get out we’re 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 Constitution of the United States. You certainly have what it takes to support you and your dependents. You just have to be smart about it – and ask the right questions. Will you be getting a civilian job, and if so, will it be the same thing that you did in the military? Is remote work for you? Or will you go to school? Where will you do these things? How will you prepare to pay for them while you wait for benefits? Do you know how to get into the VA system?
No matter what your answers are, there are things you need to do in the two years leading up to your departure from the military that will ensure a smooth and successful experience.
Two Years to 18 Months from Expiration - Term of Service (ETS):
- Find a mentor who has faced the same problems you will likely face.
- Choose your civilian career and make sure you’ll leave the military with an education or a certified skill that will help you in that career.
- Learn about your G.I. Bill and decide what you plan to do with it.
- Start to save money and be prepared for the possibility of a tight job market when you get out.
- Start to build a network by meeting people in your desired career field or college.
One Year Out:
- Review your pre-separation budget and make sure you’re on track.
- If you’re going to school after leaving, choose where, what to study, and start applying.
- Learn about both VA home loans and the process of buying a house. If you’re moving to a new area, you might be able to get house hunting orders.
- Begin the process of getting out of the military, which includes informing your unit and command while starting relevant paperwork and taking transition assistance classes. You may even be assigned a counselor.
Six Months to Go:
- Make sure your budget projections still make sense.
- Write a resume, preferably with the assistance of a career counselor, and use it in your job search. Be sure to show this to your transition mentor and your civilian career mentor, too.
- Request your last household good shipment. The military will pack up and send your belongings to your new location or home of record one last time.
- Consider your post-military health care options. Unless your conditions are service-connected, your coverage will end. If you have a new employer who offers health care, enroll in that. You can also find health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act website. Tricare offers temporary health care coverage for newly-separated members under the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) and Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP).
- Update your wardrobe, leaning on your career mentor and the professional network you’ve been developing.
- Decide where you’ll roll your military blended 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 household goods shipments and other PCS/ETS procedures.
Three Months Left:
- Begin working on your VA compensation claim paperwork. Declare everything on your outgoing medical exam. Your duty station and Veterans Service Organizations (like the DAV) will assist with this process. Some states have offices to help veterans get this done.
- Review your budget one last time to ensure it’s still good to go.
- No matter your age, review your life insurance options, especially Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) vs. Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI).
- Get copies of your medical and dental records to keep.
- Visit your doctor for free one last time.
One Month Out:
- Choose your health insurance.
- Know your home state’s veterans benefits.
- Stay on top of your VA disability claim.
- Keep looking for work, using job fairs, LinkedIn, and other websites.
- Meet with your school’s veterans benefits office.
This can all be overwhelming if you wait until the last minute to do everything. Remember that staying proactive and ensuring you arrive at each point when you’re supposed to will keep you from losing your mind as your ETS date approaches.
Then you’ll really be able to celebrate a job well done.
Read the full transition guide online here.