It’s been just over a year since my husband’s military career came to an end. It’s funny. First, I was counting down the days until he got out.
It seemed like a dream come true:
No longer at the mercy of a leave chit?
Having a say in scheduling our time?
Actually booking plane tickets in advance?
Sign. Me. Up.
Or so I thought… As the days went faster and faster, reality hit: separation package paperwork, moving and all of the stuff that comes along with the realization this lifestyle I had known and even loved my entire life was coming to an end–I’m a military brat, too.
It can feel like a job in itself navigating the transition waters, but really it’s a team effort. This was about the both of us, most especially my husband and what he was going to go through, so I went to the source to give you advice for when it’s time to transition. I want to thank him and his former shipmates (our great friends) for giving me their candid feedback.
Get ready for the paperwork
Oh yes. The paperwork. Just when you think you’re finished filling out all of the forms, there will be more. You can count on it. Keep it all in order and all hail the DD 214. In all seriousness, keep that sucker readily available. This is the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. It will be needed for things like getting a VA loan on a house and potential employers may ask for it, especially if the decision is made to work for the federal government. Get the paperwork done before separation so nothing is held up or delayed and it can be delayed if you’re missing any paperwork or if anything is incomplete. No one wants the headache. Check and recheck to make sure it’s all complete.
Get copies of everything
In fact, get two copies of everything and do it in person. It’s probably no surprise that things are slow-going via phone… if you can even get a hold of someone in the first place (we’ve all been there). Medical records, dental records and any other pertinent information– get hard copies and if you can, scan them and save them on a thumb drive. This will make future appointments much easier. If you have kids going to new schools you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to things like shot records.
Make friends in the right places
Establish a positive rapport with the person who’s taking care of your separation paperwork. They will be more inclined to be helpful which will make your life a lot easier. Live in military housing? Stay friendly with the property management team. Flexibility when you’re scheduling the final walk-through inspection and move out is a good thing.
Take advantage of permanent leave
First make sure you are certain of how much leave time you have then put in the request early so you can maximize your time off. Often a service member will have accrued weeks or even months of leave. Use this time to relax, send résumés, get organized, prepare for any upcoming moves, and dip your toe into civilian waters.
Don’t blow it while you’re on permanent leave
It can be easy to become complacent on leave when it feels like military life is over, but it is important to remember it is most definitely not over-yet. Keep in mind that all of the restrictions and rules still apply. Don’t take off somewhere without a chit and please do not partake in activities that can jeopardize your benefits. There have been instances of service-members with less than a week to go testing positive for substance abuse and losing all of their pay and benefits because of it. You never know if you’ll be called in just for the heck of it. Don’t risk it.
Don’t immediately jump into something new
One of the guys stressed that it’s important to take some time off to decompress before taking on a new job or starting a business. Going from years of an extremely stringent and structured lifestyle to civilian life can be an adjustment. It may be in your best interest not to start a new job the day after you get out. Once separation is official, taking a couple of months off to get used to how the civilian world works and sleeping past 4 AM is a good thing. (My husband ‘sleeps in’ until 5:30 AM these days).
All of the guys said to save money. This was a big one. Even if the military is paying for your move, there are things they don’t cover. Additionally, a transition doesn’t always mean retirement and benefits, so it is important to budget and plan ahead for a rent or mortgage and utilities; things BAH may have automatically covered that you’ll now have to think about. It may take time to find employment or to build a business and generate income. Have a financial plan in place.
Notify the relevant people
Since my husband has children and pays child support, he had to let the courts know he was getting out of the military and he’d be changing his place of residence. It is of utmost importance to make sure matters like this are addressed ahead of time. Debtors should be notified of changes and if you lived off-base and will receive any refunds on deposits or utilities, make sure you have left your forwarding address and phone number.
Utilize all of the resources available to you
During separation training you will attend a week-long course on what do before and after separation. You may see some people roll their eyes over it; however, there is a lot of relevant information provided. Pay attention! Along with the training, information is provided on benefits and resources available to veterans transitioning out of the military. If you will file for disability compensation, get started early and make an appointment with your regional benefits officer. It is a lot easier having someone help with the paperwork than going at it alone. From JAG to Veteran Employment Services and the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), there are a multitude of places to get assistance. Take full advantage of them.
Remember your family is transitioning also
When I was fifteen years old, I went to a civilian theater and stood awaiting a national anthem that did not play. I had no idea that this was normal. When my dad got out it was a huge adjustment. It was weird to have him around on a civilian schedule and after two years of living in the same house it was hard to know we weren’t moving.
Some people grow up in the same place their whole lives and cannot imagine leaving it. I couldn’t imagine being “stuck” in the same place my entire life and suddenly there was no, “Hey kids, I got stationed to such and such place, we’re moving again!”
Fast forward to years later and my husband’s former shipmates are in places like Japan and Spain and friends and acquaintances that have husbands with orders coming in are choosing between places like Germany and Guam. I have PCS envy, yes it’s true. Those orders aren’t going to happen for us. There is almost a grieving that takes place for some families once their service-member has transitioned out. That with the pressures of adjusting to an entirely new lifestyle and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Make sure you’re on the same page for future planning; where will you live? Will the career paths you’ve chosen make financial sense and leverage you forward to meet your goals? Once the military lifestyle is in you, it’s usually there to stay. Remember patience is a virtue all around. Exercise it toward yourself and each other while embracing and celebrating the time you gave in service. Then look forward to the next adventures; your adventures, together.
Heather Wilson is an Air Force brat who said she’d never marry a man in the military, so of course she did. After her husband finished his career in the US Navy, they made the move from San Diego, California to his native rural Northwest Arkansas to be with his children. Honored with Business Traveler Magazine’s title of Business Traveler of the year, Heather is an events and experiential marketing expert, cancer survivor, tea aficionado and biker chick who strives to live the ‘gift is in the giving’. She is amusing herself and others learning to be a city girl living in a country world. You can follow her adventures at Country Life, City Wife.