So they put you through the TAPs class but you’re still wondering, how on earth do I actually adjust to civilian life? See, it’s not just about having to repackage your career into a nice little bow for civilian employers. It’s also about figuring out how you’ll mentally make this military transition to civilian life. Pro or con… the military institutionalized you and built up a big part of your identity. It was necessary to make it through training, day-to-day life, and deployments. But now that you’re out, who are you if not a Soldier/Sailor/Marine/Airman/Guard?
Life as a civilian is something you lived for many years before enlisting or getting your officer commission, so why is it so hard when you’re making that jump the other direction?
Read on to learn more about these top 20 tips for making the transition to full civilian life a good one.
20 Tips to Adjust to Your Military Transition to Civilian Life
#1 Repackage for Employers
Your military experience doesn’t always directly transfer over to the civilian world, so you’ve got to paint a clear picture for employers. That often requires some tailoring. You might want to talk with a career expert to help you adjust your resume for Applicant Tracking Systems and to repackage all your strong military experience into meaningful terms for the civilian side.
More like this: Military to Civilian Resume: In-Depth Guide & Expert Tips
#2 Find a Support System
No matter what you went through, it was nice to have the community that the military provides baked in. You’ll want to try to recreate that in some sense, whether it’s with veterans directly, a church, or some other community group. Having a sense of purpose helps to propel you forward and gives you the support that you might have come to rely on in the military.
More like this: Wilderness Therapy: What Is It? How Is It Helping Heal Veterans?
#3 Giving Back Makes You Feel Connected
Volunteering and supporting other people is a great way to make this transition easier. It helps you to see that you’re part of a bigger picture, which is something the military does really well. It can be hard for some people moving into the civilian world because it can be much more isolated and self-driven rather than mission-driven. Find a way to give back that resonates with your personality.
#4 You’ll Need Actual Work Attire
Yeah, you can’t just wear a uniform anymore. Cheers to not worrying about creases or spills on uniform inspection day! Get some versatile civilian clothes, but you might find yourself buying six versions of the same shirt and pants. It’s a habit.
#5 You’ve Got a Big Network
The military is a huge support system, but the same can be said for the veteran community. Don’t be afraid to reach out to community groups in your area to tap into it.
#6 Your Spouse Will Transition, Too
Your entire family had to adapt to life in the military, which means that they’ll be going through a process of adapting to life afterward, too!
#7 You Might Miss It
By the time you get out of the military, you’re probably really ready to go. But there’s also a sense of familiarity with the whole lifestyle and it can be difficult to replace that. Know that you might miss it (but probably not enough to head back down to the recruiter’s office.)
#8 You Might Need Some Time Not To Think About the Military at All
If it was hard for you to even decide whether or not to stay in the reserves, there’s a possibility you’re torn about military life, period. If you’re truly burned out, ready for a fresh start, or dealing with whatever physical and mental things the military left you with, take some time. It’s okay to check out of military and veteran culture for a bit.
#9 Civilians Don’t Always Get It
Your family has been there for you, but many people don’t know anything about the military. They might ask really stupid questions “So did you kill anyone?” or “Was boot camp hard?” and sometimes it’s easier to bite your tongue.
But you know the flip side of this? Other vets get it. There’s an instant connection and understanding.
#10 You’re Gonna Want To Grow Your Hair
It seems like most military men I know moving into the civilian world feel a sudden and compelling urge to grow facial hair and hair past their ears. (My husband, who now looks like Kurt Russell in The Thing, is a great example.)
Embrace it. No one’s measuring your high and tight anymore. You don’t have to live and die by your fear of the 5 o’clock shadow.
Ladies, just embrace that you don’t have to wear the super tight bun anymore (and if you want to still rock it, you do you!)
#11 You Should Be Prepared To Negotiate Job Offers
One thing that completely caught my husband off guard is that he could negotiate his job offer, including bonuses. While the military has a clear and easy to understand pay scale, sometimes that makes it hard to figure out what you’re really worth post-service. Ask for what you’re worth and push back if it’s not offered. Civilian employers expect you to negotiate (and some embrace it.)
#12 No One Tells You How Hard It Is To Pick Where To Live
During active duty years, it’s a pain to have someone give you limited options for where to go. Usually, it’s in a pressure cooker where you have a short window to choose where to go. But suddenly the civilian options seem overwhelming. Move near (or away from?) the in-laws? Head back to an area where you loved the culture? Hometown? Somewhere new entirely? The options are endless and that can be hard for many people. Give yourself plenty of buffer time to figure out the best option for you and your family.
More like this: 10 Best States for Military Retirement in 2022
#13 The VA Is a (Possible) Nightmare
Okay, so you probably already knew this one from friends who got out before you. There are probably plenty of lovely people who work at the VA, but the system itself? It’s a web of confusion for most vets and there hasn’t been much progress in making it easier to navigate. Going from Tricare to VA benefits can be really challenging. Do lots of research and continue to push for your rights. Be ready for long phone calls on hold, extreme wait times, and paperwork. Of course, your mileage may vary, so celebrate if your VA office is great to work with!
#14 Read the Fine Print on Your Health Insurance
Especially if you’re getting out without enough time to accumulate lifetime Tricare, do your research if your new employer presents you with an array of options for healthcare. Figure out what’s covered and what isn’t. Deductibles and copays can be quite different than your military experience.
#15 Yes, You Need to Save for Retirement
If you left with military retirement, congrats! But getting to 20 years is a long haul for most servicemembers, even if they planned on making it there when they signed their contract. If your plans changed and you’re now walking away from a military pension, get with a financial advisor stat. You might be years behind in your savings and now is the time to play catch up.
Even if you are set with a military pension, trying to time all the right retirement dates in the future can be messy. Consolidate all your income streams by working with a professional.
More like this: 5 Ways to Build Wealth With Military Pension & VA Disability
#16 Renting a Home Might Be More Difficult Than You Thought
When you had a clear pay history and lived on base, housing wasn’t so difficult. But landlords today might ask for things you don’t have–like rental references–so consider looking for nonprofits or experts in your area who can help. As is mentioned above, not everyone understands military life or the fact that you might not have this info.
#17 Learn What You Can and Can’t Do With a VA Loan
One of the best benefits of post-service life is that sweet VA loan. But you can’t use it for anything and everything, and you’ll want to find a good lender. There are rules about how long you intend to live in the property you’re trying to buy with a VA loan, so use it for the right reasons. Do your homework and play by the rules.
#18 Make Sure You Close Out Your Time by Dotting All the I’s
If you’re planning to apply for VA disability, get in all your medical appointments before you leave. It’s more difficult to try to paint the picture after you’ve left the service. You’ll have less of an uphill battle if this is all documented before your final day.
#19 They Might Try To Keep You
There’s something about that captain or commander who hated your guts finding out that you’re leaving. You might experience a sudden change in interest and a strong desire to keep you in, depending on recruitment numbers for your branch of service. If you’ve already made a big decision to exit, remember that. Ultimately, it’s your choice, but don’t be shocked by this “change of heart.”
#20 There’s No Convenience Like the Base
If you’re lucky, all the things you need in civilian life are in relatively close proximity. But there’s nothing like the ease of finding the movie theater, dry cleaner, barber shop, grocery store, and pretty much everything else you needed to live on the base.
What did you experience with your transition from active duty to civilian life? Did you have trouble adjusting to civilian life after the military? What tips did you find helpful? Let us know in the comments below!