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Transitioning from Active Duty to Civilian Life

It doesn’t matter how long you served in the military, shifting back into civilian life as a Veteran can be quite intimidating. Every Veteran’s transition story you hear is different which eliminates the word ‘normal’ from the experience. You will do it your way and within your own time frame. Your experiences will forever be a part of who you are, but now it’s time to add to the ever-growing you.

Before we get into the active duty-to-civilian life transition, let’s check out some lesser-known, highly impressive facts about the reality of Veterans in our country.

Interesting Facts

Veterans are a combination of triumphs and struggles mixed with strength and spirit. Rising above statistics, these men and women, heroes of our country, have persevered.

  • There must be something in Pennsylvania’s water because the highest percentage of Veterans come from there!
  • 9% of U.S businesses are owned by Veterans.
  • Compared to civilians, more Veterans have graduated high school but less have college degrees
  • 16 million Americans served during World War 2 and over 600,000 are still alive today
  • Three states, California, Florida, and Texas, all have over one million Veterans living there. Something about the warm weather!

A high percentage of Veterans have forged a path to success following their transition into civilian life. Let’s look at how you can, as well.

Transitioning from Active Duty to Civilian Life

Humans are preconditioned to prefer the familiar and, for some, the thought of something new (even if it was experienced before enlisting) can be exceptionally stressful. Periods of adjustment are normal, even for those who have never served in the military. It can take time to acclimate to change which could take weeks or even months.

Everyone is different, and no two people have the same experience when it comes to transitioning from military to civilian life. Feeling irritable, edgy, anxious, and depressed after re-entry is to be expected, you’re leaving what shaped a crucial piece of your identity. You had your most basic needs fully taken care of, leaving you time to focus on the importance of your job. But, this process doesn’t have to define you while you’re getting used to your new normal, and it can be made gentler the more mentally prepared you are. There are things you can actively do to help ease that transition process, should you feel it necessary:

The first 18 months to a year before your actual move from military to civilian life:

  • Learn about all your military benefits. If you’re planning on going to school, know about the GI Bill and other tuition assistance available to you
  • Start looking at jobs or colleges, depending on which way you want to go
  • Make an appointment with your transition counselor
  • Develop a transition plan
  • Review your pre-separation checklist
  • Go to a TAP workshop
  • Grow your personal and professional network
  • Develop your resume, there are resources to help you do that
  • Find out about your health care benefits and insurance options
  • Budget and prepare for your civilian life and all its costs

6 Months to a few days from your transition:

  • Start applying for jobs or colleges/trade schools
  • Learn more about all your benefits and, if you aren’t using them, find out how to transfer them to your dependents (if you have any)
  • If going right into a job, start looking to dress the part
  • Attend career fairs
  • Consider job placement opportunities if you aren’t going to school
  • Make sure you’re financially ready for your civilian life
  • If you’ve been wounded, look into the Wounded Warriors Program
  • Finalize your living arrangements and familiarize yourself with the area
  • Have your government housing inspection scheduled
  • Speak with a service-specific TAP counselor
  • Take a deep breath!

Beginning civilian life:

Once you’ve begun to live your civilian life, you may notice you’re having some ‘side effects’. Survival mode has kicked in and you’re feeling uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you’re feeling more hostile than normal, or you’re having trust issues. It’s crucial to seek help as you adjust to your new normal. Also, keep some of the following ideas in mind:

  • Join a Veteran’s support group. The more social support you have, the better!
  • Find a mentor, someone who has already transitioned successfully. There are mentoring programs available specifically for Veterans who are reentering civilian life.
  • Eat healthily, exercise regularly, and sleep well. There’s something to be said for a healthy, well-rested mind and body.
  • Practice deep breathing techniques. It may seem small, but it's a part of your health.
  • Have a plan of action and share it with the significant people in your life. Having a list of goals, whether it’s career-related or relationship-oriented, is such a powerful tool because clarity aids in an easier transition. No matter how vague or detailed your ideas are, it doesn’t matter, just have a plan ready. It can be changed at any time.
  • If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it or talk about it. You are not obligated to share stories if you don’t want to. Sure, others will be curious about your military life, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to share your experience or not to.
  • Consider going back to school if you don’t already have a degree or diploma.

Resources for Veterans

Transitioning from active military life, back to the life of a civilian can take an emotional toll on even the strongest person. You’re going from soldier to civilian, danger to safety, and potentially, chaos to order. There are no set rules defining how your adjustment should look and feel. And, you most certainly don’t have to go at it alone. There are many different assistance programs to help veterans make that profound life change.

Look for programs that offer longer-term assistance because sometimes one week isn’t enough. Most military transition programs offer job placement assistance, resume writing skills and resources, networking, interviewing strategies, and other skills specific to job searching. But, very often, a different type of help is needed. There are so many incredible resources supporting our Vets, listed below are a few.

  • Honor Courage Commitment: Honor, Courage, Commitment serves our Vets by empowering them through the training and mentorship provided.
  • Real Warriors: A public awareness campaign designed to encourage help-seeking behavior among service members, Veterans and military families coping with invisible wounds such as PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and more.
  • Moving Forward: Moving Forward is a free online course that teaches skills to help overcome obstacles and meet goals. It is a free course and registration is not required.
  • After Deployment: After Deployment is an online resource that supports Service members, their families, and Veterans, with post-deployment concerns. Provided on this website are self-care solutions for those who suffer from PTSD, depression, anger, sleep issues, relationship troubles, and mental health challenges not listed.
  • Transition Assistance Program: TAP was established to meet the needs of separating service members during their period of transition into civilian life by offering job-search assistance and related services.

Specifically for Women

There are over 1.8 million women Veterans in America, with an average age of 47. Many of these women are living with three major mental health issues: PTSD, hypertension, and depression. However, there are a greater number of women Veterans stepping into more management or professional roles than their male comrades, both Veteran and non-Veteran alike!

There are resources available that are unique to women Veterans who are transitioning back into civilian life.

  • Academy Women: Academy Women is a global leadership and professional development organization that empowers aspiring, current and past women military leaders through mentoring, training, and growth opportunities to impact positive change within the world community.
  • Athena’s Sisters: Athena’s Sisters is located in Kentucky and is a sisterhood organization that is run for women, by women. To share stories and create connections to help military women heal.
  • Grace After Fire: Grace After Fire helps military women to gain self-knowledge and self-renewal through teaching, developing, and listening to the woman Veteran and her needs upon returning home.
  • Women Veterans Rock: The purpose of Women Veterans Rock is to identify emerging trends in the post-military lives of women Veterans and military families; produce valuable work-life data on transitions and sustainability over a 10 year period, and present America with current data and resource information about the real and everyday lives of America’s Military Women.
  • Final Salute: The goal of Final Salute is to find safe and suitable housing for women Veterans who find themselves homeless. Their programs H.O.M.E, S.A.F.E and Stand Up are all focused on helping women veterans.
  • The Center for Women Veterans: Established by Congress in 1994, The Center for Women Veterans helps the fastest growing subgroup of Veterans, women. Their goal is to raise awareness of the responsibility to treat women Veterans with dignity and respect.

Possible Career Paths for Vets

Let’s be real here; you can’t be pigeon-holed. When it comes to best career choices for Veterans, your options are only as limited as your imagination (or job openings). It simply comes down to what your skillset, degree, or desire is. As a Veteran, you already have a strong skill set; discipline, leadership, problem-solving skills, perseverance, etc.

Whether you just want to start working, go to a university, or enter a trade, it’s up to you and your goals.

1) Find a Job

If you want to just roll up your sleeves and get started with your civilian life by getting a good job, you might want to find a military-friendly employer.

There are resources to help you find employers who don’t just claim they are military-friendly, they really are.

  • Veteran Recruiting: Veteran Recruiting is considered to be an ‘online job fair’ connecting veterans and their spouses with companies looking to hire them. Their goal is to help employ 100,000 veterans by 2020.
  • Hire Veterans: Hire Veterans is a top online recruiting site offering relevant job postings from around the country, as well as abroad.
  • Vet Jobs: Vet Jobs is an online job board offering other resources for transitioning military personnel and their spouses.
  • is a job search tool which allows the job seeker to enter search details such as what type of job, or what city, you are looking for. It locates the best matches for you.
  • Lastly, the US Department of Veteran Affairs provides vocational rehabilitation, and is a great resource for veterans to gain marketable job skills, interview tips, employment recommendations, and many other services.

2) Enroll in University

Or, maybe you really want to go to college. With the GI Bill available, more colleges and universities are looking to recruit military into their student body. But, what makes a college ‘military friendly’? Keep in mind, ‘veteran friendly’ might look different to each person. However, here are some basic things to look for when determining if a school is as military friendly as they are claiming to be:

  • Is there a liaison or director veteran representative dedicated to the Veteran/military student body? A person who understands the benefits and needs of a Veteran that can also assist with enrollment, financial, and some emotional needs is one sign of a college that is truly military friendly.
  • Does the school follow the American Council on Education’s guidelines and accept military credits? Be sure to question the admissions advisor because those are some hard-earned credits you want counted.
  • Is there an on-campus veteran organization? Student Veteran organizations greatly impact the awareness of social and academic needs of the Vet student body. The average age for Veteran college students is 23-27, compared with the 18-20 year old non-Veteran student body. Studies shows being active in college makes for a more successful student. By getting involved in a campus Veteran’s organization, it keeps you involved with peers and engaged in your studies.
  • Is there a clearly defined network, whether it’s a counselor, officer, or dedicated center to offer the Veteran student body all around support if needed?

3) Enroll in a Trade School

There are also the trade school careers to consider. Some trades best allow for a military to civilian transition in a comparatively short amount of time. There are many skilled trade careers to choose from. Here are five:

  • Truck Driver - Truck drivers need to be dependable, have an acute sense of awareness, and exceptional mental stamina. Most of these are qualities that describe our Veterans.

Read more about Veterans in trucking.

  • HVAC - HVAC technicians can learn as they earn if they choose to go the apprenticeship route. Which, for Veterans can be beneficial because they can quickly start learning a career and making a living.
  • Welding - Tulsa Welding School states, “There is a skilled labor shortage in the country, and skilled and disciplined veterans who may not have had access to welding training before their military service can help plug that shortage with the help of the GI Bill and military scholarships.”
  • Electrician - Through Helmets to Hardhats, Veterans can train for and find jobs in the construction industry.
  • Auto Tech - If you worked on military vehicles, becoming an auto technician is a natural fit for your skillset.

Getting a Job

Joblessness for veterans has been on a slow but steady decline, with the most updated rate being 3.6%. The unemployment rate for Veterans is far lower than the American average of 5%. Many companies have initiated a type of “Hire Veterans” program, opening up hundreds upon thousands of jobs for qualified veterans. J.P Morgan spearheaded a program which started out to hire 100,000 veterans, but they ended up surpassing their goal multiple times over. Now over 200 private-sector companies have joined forces with an objective of employing over one million veterans. And, that’s just one of many job initiative programs to aid our heroes.

The path of getting a job begins with a resume and ends with the sign-on papers. It’s par for the course for anyone looking for a job, civilian or Veteran. For Veterans, it may appear harder because they come from a place where everything is spelled out for them, from what they are eating to their daily activities. Plus, with an increased veteran demand, now is a great time for veterans to look for these options.

1) Resume Tips

You’ve learned a lot during your time in active duty, and much of it is transferrable to civilian working life. It’s all in how you use creativity to word it on your resume. Check out this guide on creating a resume and cover letter.

  • Clearly state your job objective. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always been a civilian or just re-entering civilian life, having a clear idea of the type of job you’re looking for is important. Generic resumes typically do not get the attention of hiring personnel. You need to fashion your resume to highlight your background and career interests. If your goals are not defined, you will be unable to correctly market yourself.
  • Demilitarize your job skills and lingo. Chances are, the person reading your resume is unfamiliar with military jargon. Translate your work skills into a language civilians would understand. Highlight what you’ve learned. You do not need to downplay your military experience, but your skills need to be relatable to the work you’re interviewing for.
  • Let the employer know what you can do for them. That’s the sole purpose of a resume, to preliminarily let the employer know that you’re a great fit for the job. As you’re building your resume, be sure to include any skills or keywords you have that are relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • It’s okay to be a show-off (You’ve earned it!). This may sound a bit contradictory considering one of the tips is to demilitarize. That’s just the military-talk we’re talking about. However, there’s definitely space on a resume to list all your military accomplishments, and you should proudly do so. It will distinctly inform employers about all the hard-earned skills that you bring to the table and lets them know how you can benefit the company.
  • Important words to hit within your resume are teamwork, flexibility, detail-oriented, and persistent. These are considered ‘soft skills’ that are important to most businesses, no matter what kind. Research shows that most employers consider these four ‘soft skills’ to be among the top factors when hiring. Relate those four qualities to yourself and your experience while being able to explain how they will benefit the position you’re seeking.
  • Realize that your resume is a fluid document because you’ll constantly be revising it as you receive feedback from interviews.

2) Interview Prep Tips

Pre-interview jitters are only natural. After all, you’re in the hot-seat, and a potentially well-fitting job is at stake. Interviews are conducted to allow employers to learn about you as a possible new hire. They are also a way for you to find out more about the company and position you are interviewing for.

However, interviews do not need to be a stressful process. The more prepared you are, the better you may feel going into it. Here are some helpful tips.

  • Do some pre-interview research. Find out what you can about the company, see what employees and ex-employees are saying about it on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Explore their website to learn more about the company and all its key components.
  • Review your resume. Be sure you can speak about your skills and experience naturally.
  • Practice speaking. You can be certain that the person interviewing you will ask you questions about your technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Have a basic idea of how you’ll answer questions like these.
  • Reach out to references. Most companies ask for references, either before the interview or while conducting it. Have at least three names ready, and make sure those people are okay with the idea of being your reference.
  • Have at least three resumes ready to hand out during the interview. The company probably already has a copy that you sent during the application process, but it’s best to have clean copies to hand out, just in case.
  • Arrive on time, dressed for success. And, remember to maintain eye-contact!
  • Thank them for their time. Upon conclusion of the interview, firmly shake hands and say thank you. It was your time, too. But, you’re the one that needs to make that great first impression.
  • GOOD LUCK! You’ve got this.
  • Oh, and one last thing. Within 24-hours, follow up after the interview with either an email, phone call, or a nicely handwritten note thanking them once again for their time and reminding them of the position you’re interested in.

It may seem overwhelming, or you may transition from active duty to civilian life with ease. Just remember, you are never alone. With all the resources, family, and friends available to you, you’re just a text, phone call, or visit away from an ear.

If you are struggling, please contact Veteran’s Crisis Line either online or by phone for support. Although times of transition and your experiences may be difficult, you can have a great road ahead of you. Moving forward can sometimes be the best step you have ever taken.

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