Leaving the military is a big step. When it’s time to leave, it can be overwhelming deciding what to do next and where to start. There are many things to consider including your career, possibly going back to school, etc.
Military Times has complied a checklist and timeline to help guide transitioning veterans into civilian life. Here is the timeline to help guide you to your next steps and when to get a head start on your civilian life.
Two Years to 18 Months from ETS:
• Find yourself a mentor who faced the same problems you will likely face.
• Choose your civilian career and make sure you’ll be educated and trained with what you need to know by the time you leave the military.
• Did you use Tuition Assistance and are you on track to graduate before you leave the military? Make sure you leave the military with an education or a certified skill.
• What will you do with your G.I. Bill – will you need it to Top-up your TA benefits? Will you need it on the outside or should you transfer it to your dependents? Are you even eligible to transfer them?
• Make sure you’ll have enough money saved up in case of a tight job market when you get out. Having all the skills and training in the world won’t help when no one is hiring. If you have to wait or move to get that job, be sure you’re financially prepared for that with a smart and realistic budget.
• Start meeting people in your desired career field or college – this is also known as “networking.” It’s much easier to get in to that dream school or dream job when the school or business already knows you, likes you, and believes you can get the job done.
• Since I know you made that pre-separation budget six months ago, give that another pass and make sure you’re on track. If your destination changed, you’ll have to re-evaluate the budget entirely, to include both the cost of moving and the cost of living.
• If you’re going to school after leaving, it’s time to choose where you’re going, what to study, and start the application process. Make sure you know which parts of the application are due and when.
• This might be a good time for you to learn about VA home loans as well as the process of buying house. If you’re going to move 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 all the relevant paperwork and taking all the transition assistance classes offered or required. You may even be assigned a counselor.
Six Months To Go:
• Make sure your budget projections are being filled and still make sense. Isn’t it great to know you’ll have all the money you’ll need for all the small expenses that come up along the way?
• Learn to write a resume and write up your own, preferably after meeting with a career counselor and having them look it over. Be sure to show this to your transition mentor and your civilian career mentor (if they aren’t the same person). You can never have too many eyes on your resume.
• Use this resume to start your job search if you haven’t started looking already.
• It’s time to put in for your last household good shipment. The military will pack up and send your belongings to the location of your new life or to your home of record one last time, all you have to do is arrange it and decide where it will all go.
• Consider your post-military health care options. The VA will cover you for a while after you leave the military, but unless your conditions are service-connected that coverage will end. If you have a new employer who offers health care, be sure to 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).
• Be sure to update your wardrobe. Jeans and the T-shirt you wear under your OCPs won’t cut it in the real world, especially at a job interview. Ask the career mentor or professional network you definitely developed when I told you to over a year ago.
• Decide where you’ll roll your military blended retirement savings. For plans worth less than $100,000, consider a fiduciary app like Wealthfront. You can manage your savings from your smartphone for minimal fees, much less than most brokers.
• Update your important documents while it’s still free. Documents like living wills and powers of attorney can cost a lot of money on the outside.
• 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. The sooner you finish this process, the better. You may find your own healthcare is entirely service-connected. Your duty station and Veterans Service Organizations (like the DAV) have people on hand to assist with this process. Some states, like New York, have offices to help veterans get this done. Check out the benefits your new or home state offers.
• This is the last chance you’ll have to ensure that budget you made when I told you to is still good to go.
• Review your life insurance options, especially SGLI vs. VGLI. Younger people may scoff at this step, but if you do as this list implores you to do, you’ll be happy you did.
• Get your own copies of your medical and dental records and never give them away. Only ever give away copies.
• Visit your doctor and get medically checked out for free one last time. It gets pricey from here on in.
• Choose your health insurance.
• Know your home states veterans benefits.
• Stay on top of your VA disability claim.
• Keep looking for work, considering job fairs, LinkedIn, and other websites as part of your efforts.
• Meet with your school’s veterans benefits office.
Remember that this can all be overwhelming if you wait until the last minute to do everything. So don’t. Staying proactive and ensuring you arrive at each point when you’re supposed to – or even 15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior – will keep you from losing your mind as the ETS date approaches.