How to Transition from Military to Civilian Life

Updated Dec 21, 20224 min
How to Transition from Military to Civilian Life

How to Transition from Military to Civilian Life

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20224 min
How to Transition from Military to Civilian Life

Adjusting to military life is difficult, but don’t underestimate the difficulty in adjusting back to civilian life when leaving military service. Many people join the armed services straight from high school and have no experience in life as a civilian. Going to college, navigating a corporate job, buying a home, and managing finances can be overwhelming. 

This article explains how to set yourself up for success when leaving the military by planning well in advance. The article explains the steps to take as your EAS date approaches to ensure a smooth transition to civilian life.

12 to 18 Months Out: Plan Ahead, Way Ahead 

A military career offers a combination of independence and support, but the supporting infrastructure ends along with active duty and independence becomes the operative word.

According to the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families at the University of Southern California, 75% of departing military members do not have solid employment or school plans when they leave the military, and that’s a problem.

Key to transitioning is to have a plan. A core component of the military experience and military skills is discipline, so a veteran who finds themselves without structure or purpose could feel totally lost and experience mental health hurdles as well as financial and relationship difficulties. Having a structure in place that includes a career and a comfortable home can make the transition much more tolerable.

Departing military personnel should begin making plans at least a year before their end active service (EAS) date. This entails researching jobs and the necessary qualifications. If attending college is the goal, a career advisor might be able to help with direction and give advice on the benefits a veteran is entitled to.

Take Advantage of Support Resources

According to a report by Syracuse University, 41 percent of veterans face challenges adjusting to civilian culture, so why not take advantage of all the support you can as you start to transition? The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) offers counseling and instruction programs for those in the armed forces. TAP programs help departing military members find their particular track in the civilian world whether it be employment, entrepreneurship, or vocational training

There are outreach programs for military veterans for each arm of the military.

The programs are free, and they should be considered insurance for your future. These support programs are valuable because you may change your mind about your new career, be involuntarily separated due to a reduction in the force, or you could be retired because of an unforeseen illness or injury.

Explore Scholarships

Yes, you should be eligible for education benefits from the GI Bill for your civilian transition, but you may also qualify for scholarships that are based on merit rather than financial need. Plan to know what you will be studying, what programs you’ll be applying to, and in what cities, around nine months before your EAS date. Then, apply for any scholarships that you might qualify for. Seek advice from a career advisor.

Six Months Out: Explore Your Future Industry and Network

You should complete your three-day transition readiness seminar. The sooner you complete this seminar, the more time you will have to implement what you learn before you actually leave active service. Here are some things you should focus on at this stage for your civilian career:

  • Finalize your plan for vocational training or professional certifications. The Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits apply to most trade schools as well as online instruction, and you don’t have to wait until your ETS to enroll. You can even take online courses while deployed.

  • Look into joining trade or industry associations, especially while enrolled as a student. Many such associations offer discounted membership dues. Involvement in these groups and the knowledge it brings can give you an advantage when you are job seeking.

  • Explore internships, industry training, or apprenticeship programs over the last 180 days of service. DoD SkillBridge is a public-private partnership program that serves uniformed service members and helps them prepare for civilian jobs and career transitions.

  • Network. For your job hunt and veteran employment, reach out to people in the industry you are targeting, attend events, and try to find out who is hiring and where the opportunities are.

Three Months Out: Set Up Health Insurance

Health insurance for you and your family when you leave the military is critical. Leaving the military is a TRICARE Qualifying Life Event (QLE). You will not lose TRICARE coverage, but it might not be the best option.

Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP) is a transitional program with premium-free coverage under TRICARE for 180 days after your regular TRICARE benefits expire. If you don’t qualify for TAMP, you may be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).

The CHCBP functions as a bridge between TRICARE and civilian health insurance providing coverage for up to 18 to 36 months until you find employment or your own individual or family coverage.

Departing service members are eligible for up to 18 months of CHCBP coverage. Dependent spouses and children who lose TRICARE coverage may receive up to 36 months.

Two Months Out: Set Up Your Living Arrangements

At this stage, vets should be thinking about what they will need to facilitate day-to-day living. What state will you be living in? Do you need to register with a new DMV and insure your car? You also need to think about what neighborhood you will live in and what facilities you would like in the community. Consider the schools that are available for your children and access to amenities like shops and entertainment.

If you are involuntarily separated under honorable conditions or retiring, you may be eligible for permissive temporary duty, which allows job searching and house-hunting before your ETS date.

If you plan to purchase a home, the VA home loan program allows qualifying veterans to purchase a home with no down payment. VA home loans do not require private mortgage insurance, which can cost hundreds of dollars per month. Also, these loans tend to have lower interest rates.

Research other U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs housing benefits and VA benefit programs you may qualify for after leaving the U.S. military. For example, there are grants for disabled veterans to help with housing accessibility, remodeling, or even the cost of building a new custom home. The Military Housing Assistance Fund might provide some of the up-front closing costs of buying a home.

In addition to the financial factors, the decision as to where to live post-military should consider the following factors.

Educational Opportunities

Where you may be going to college will affect where you live, but you also have to consider the quality of schools for your children in the area where you settle.

Economic Growth

What is the economic environment like where you plan to live. Is it one that suits your career goals and one where your family can thrive?

Quality of Life 

Remember that the transition can be hard for military spouses, children, and other family members too. What is most important to you and your family? Is it being close to a city, or would you rather be in a rural area? Quality of life can differ depending on where you live; it all depends on lifestyle preferences and earning power.

Support Networks

As a departing veteran, support networks are crucial. Think about whether you would like to live close to friends and extended family. If you have children, grandparents can be invaluable in helping with childcare as you find your feet in the working world.

Expert Tip: For information on all types of resources check out The organization is a wealth of information from mentors to education to employers to books and podcasts. The organization also provides information on veterans' benefits and veteran jobs.

One Month Out: Consider Extra Costs and Needs

One month out, you are almost at the point of transition, so now is a good time to make a checklist of all the details that are left.

1. Meet with your admin NCO and go over all your paperwork. Verify your final pay and retirement status.

2. Finalize a job offer or enroll in school, if you haven’t already. You should have a resume and a LinkedIn profile. When you are negotiating salary, you can check the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sites like and to help you determine a fair rate.

3. Find transportation and arrange for car insurance. USAA and GEICO are competitive.

4. Arrange for your disabilities, if necessary.

If you are disabled, you may need an adapted car. You could qualify for the automobile allowance and adaptive equipment benefit, which is a one-time grant of around $20,000 to equip a vehicle with the technology you need..

If you are a disabled veteran and you plan to own your own home, you might qualify for a specially adapted housing grant of around $86,000.  The funds can go towards remodeling a home or installing adaptive equipment such as elevators, special showers, widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair, or installing ramps.

5. Check that You Have All the Insurance Coverage You Need

Your medical costs for you and your family may no longer include a subsidy, and health insurance can run as high as a thousand dollars per month or more with additional copays and deductibles charged by providers.

You’ll also have some other insurance expenses to consider, such as long-term care, disability income insurance, renters or homeowner’s insurance, and disability insurance.

6. Prepare for Increased Costs

You may well find that the costs of living are much higher than anticipated, from rent or mortgage payments to insurance, education, and taxes. Then, there is saving for retirement to consider. You will likely have to choose a tax-advantaged account that you will contribute to as you age. If you are unfamiliar with IRAs, Roth IRAs, and wealth creation, consider consulting with a recommended financial advisor or other service organizations to set you off on the right foot financially.

In Summary

There is a lot to consider when you are leaving the military. However, you can set yourself up for success by planning well in advance, researching your options, and making important decisions early on. With the help of a support network, the readjustment to civilian life will be a smooth and happy one with the secure structure that a veteran needs.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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