Much like a six year old who is bored in the backseat of a car on a long road trip, you want to know, are we there yet?

Excitement, anticipation and trepidation are understandably front and center in your life right now as you prepare to transition out of the military and into the civilian world.  In your ever so thrilling rush to “get there,” don’t forget to take care of the many important details that can make a big difference along your journey.

When To Do What

Ideally, you begin the process of transitioning out of the military long before you actually do it. While it may be a welcome process in your life, it is one that can be complicated and crowded.

If you are planning a retirement, five years out is not too soon to start thinking of your future sans uniform. At the two-year mark, you should be far more than clueless about your way ahead and at the one year out mark all systems should be set to a resounding GO.

If you are not retiring, one year out is generally sufficient to get everything in order. Generally sufficient, however, can be a true luxury in some cases, so you may have to adjust fire depending on your circumstances.

As you begin to plot and plan your way out of uniform, keep in mind that you will be essentially doing two things.

1) You will be doing what you have to do to leave the military behind, checking all the right boxes, signing multiple documents and sitting through an endless number of mind-numbing briefings.

2) You will be trying to secure a good job so you can continue or improve your current standard of living and continue on in your career.

Both processes are busy ones and having a checklist to guide you isn’t a bad idea, especially when you find yourself well down the road to release at the six-month mark. At that point, you should already have accomplished these tasks:

  • Visited the transition office and attended the required preseparation briefing, completing the DD 2648 or DD 2648-1, Preseparation Counseling Checklist. (To access detailed information online, visit TurboTap.)
  • Taken advantage of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), Veterans Affairs (VA) and/or Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) workshops and other career counseling services, even if you plan to go to college full time.
  • Have a good understanding of your potential VA benefits, entitlements and periods of eligibility. You can always refresh your memory about benefits such as compensation, pension, education, home loan, vocational rehabilitation, and life insurance online at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Given serious thought to what you want to do when you get out. Will you be taking some time off to get used to being a civilian again? Will you want to or have to go immediately into a new job? Are you going to college using your GI Bill?

When you find yourself at the six months from being a civilian mark, make sure you take care of these points:

  • Begin assessing your marketable skills and researching the job market. Figure out what you want to do, where you want to do it and how much of a salary you will need. And remember, having a security clearance will not only help open up opportunities for you but can mean a higher salary as well.
  • Understand how any future employment restrictions may apply to you based on your military experience and security clearance levels. You can read about them in Chapter 13 of the Preseparation Guide and the transition office can answer any questions you may have on the matter.
  • Understand exactly what happens to your security clearance after you leave the military. Your personnel security office can give you the answers you need.
  • Network your little heart out and begin to apply for concrete jobs when you are about three months from being able to begin work. If you’re considering continuing work for the government as a civil servant, apply for those positions even sooner. Go back to the TAP office and take advantage of one-one-one career counseling assistance.
  • Get copies of your medical and dental records. Schedule appointments now while you aren’t paying for them.
  • If you live on a military installation, contact the housing office for detailed clearing information.
  • Visit the finance office to determine what, if any, separation pay you may be entitled to upon your separation.
  • Update your will and power-of-attorney and/or obtain any free of charge now legal advice through the legal office.
  • Line up your transitional health care plan.
  • Review your draft DD 214 worksheet at the transition office. Make sure it is letter perfect. You may need it throughout your life for various reasons like if you want to buy a house using a VA home loan or get a job with the Federal government.
  • Upgrade your professional wardrobe to one that is more in line with your target industry.

There are many boxes to check off, but you can do it. Just breathe deeply and take it one step at time. Before you know it, you will have arrived at your new destination.

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.