The government spends billions of dollars making civilians into warriors, but only a fraction of that amount making warriors back into civilians. But recently that mentality has started to change. One of the main programs to assist servicemembers with transitioning out of the military and back into the civilian world is TAP, or Transition Assistance Program.

TAP has made many changes over the last couple of years to improve their program, and their success is reflected in the numbers from a recent poll. While the basic TAP is a Department of Defense-driven initiative, each branch puts its own twist on its TAP, so there are some differences according to military branch.

What is interesting is how the numbers vary by service branch. Surprisingly, Army soldiers felt they were better prepared in the areas of family integration, benefits, education and health care when it comes to transitioning out of the military than the rest of the DoD service branches. Here is the breakdown by branch of how military members feel they are ready for transition:

  • Army – 74%
  • Navy – 66%
  • Air Force – 64%
  • Marines – 59%

Note: The Coast Guard is not represented as they fall under the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense.

As the numbers show, even at best, 26% of Army soldiers surveyed feel they could be better prepared to transition out when it comes time. So what can service members do to better prepare themselves for transition after TAP? Consider these four areas:

1. Location of residence

If you have lived in base or post housing while serving, then it will be a very different experience finding a place for your family to live on the outside. There is the quality of schools to consider, state tax benefits and housing costs. Even if you have lived off installation and have always rented, buying a house has its challenges as far as neighborhood, finding a real estate agent you can trust, and the financial issues such as closing costs, housing inspection and utilities in that area. And if your spouse works, what are his/her employment opportunities in your area of consideration?

2. Healthcare insurance options

One of the big benefits of serving in the military is most healthcare costs are covered with little to no out-of-pocket expenses. However once out, sticker-shock can set in as far as how much family coverage costs. Plans with a high deductible usually have lower monthly premiums, but may not be the better option if your family has ongoing health issues.

3. Have a financial safety net

In some cases, it can take a while for the main breadwinner to find a job. If you’re a family that relies on two incomes, it can be even longer before both spouses are employed. And when transitioning to a new area, there are always additional expenses not covered– some expected and some unexpected. It makes transitioning easier if you have some money saved up before getting out. How much? As a minimum, have enough saved to carry your family through for at least two months. If you can sock away more, so much the better. You can never have too much!

4. Start preparing early

One thing many military families fail to do is to plan their eventual transition early enough in their military career. And while TAP suggests starting 18 to 24 months out, it is better to start even earlier than that, so that you have time to get everything in place and aren’t rushed at the end.

For example, do you need additional education to qualify for the job you want? Recognizing that early enough and you can use tuition assistance to get the training you need and not have to pay out-of-pocket or use your Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement.

These are only four of the many things to consider when your time for change is approaching.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.