Unless you live in a military town, the post-9/11 veteran can’t count on day-to-day society to help with the transition from military life to the civilian world. Relative to previous wars, the percentage of Americans who served in combat zones over the last eighteen years is simply too small. Which means once they hand you your DD-214 and you get on that plane, you are kind of on your own. That’s hard from an adjustment standpoint—it’s astounding how ignorant most civilians are of life in uniform. And for things like swapping notes about VA services or how to go back to school with the GI Bill, life is a series of Google searches.
This piece can’t make up for the general disconnect between society and service members. But if you are making the transition from military life to the civilian world, here is a roundup of a few things we have discussed previously at ClearanceJobs that might help make things a little easier. Your experience in uniform is valuable, and especially in the job market. It can be leveraged for more money or a better position. Here are a few things to make the transition from a uniformed career to a civilian one a little easier.
BEFORE YOU GO, GET THE DETAILS OF YOUR SECURITY CLEARANCE
Before you leave your military installation in the rear view mirror, be sure to visit your security officer in the intelligence (S2) shop and get the details of your security clearance. Once you are out, your clearance will no longer be active, but it will remain “current” for up to two years. (This assumes your next investigation is more than two years away – although that’s a policy that may change under continuous evaluation.) Once your clearance expires, employers have to incur the cost and risk of sending you through the full clearance process again, making you less promising a potential employee.
If you are out, you can still visit the S2 and ask for the details of your clearance. If that isn’t an option, you can also request a copy of your records using this guide.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR GI BILL
You are most likely enrolled in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Congress loves to tinker with this thing so the fine points are ever in motion, but the upshot is that if your spent time in the combat zone, the government owes you full or partial college tuition, a stipend for books, and a housing allowance. Pretty much every school has a veterans office with people who know the process backward and forward: every form, every document, and every phone number necessary if something goes amiss. Contact them first. Incidentally, you aren’t limited to a university education. If you are interested in learning a trade, schools for that are generally covered as well. Look, I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but you earned this benefit, and there is literally no downside to taking advantage of it. ClearanceJobs has previously shared a couple of pointers for really maximizing your benefits.
GO TO SCHOOL WHILE YOU WORK
You don’t have to choose between getting a job or getting a degree. You can use your Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to go to night school at a local university, but you might also consider getting a degree remotely. ClearanceJobs previously listed some surprising undergraduate and graduate degrees you can get through remote (i.e. online) learning from accredited universities. Aerospace engineering. Accounting. Construction management. You can earn a bachelor or masters degree through online coursework: it’s the easiest check you will ever write yourself, and you can do it on your own time.
GET ENROLLED IN THE VA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
The VA healthcare system can be a frustrating process—especially if you aren’t fully covered, or live in an area without a nearby VA hospital. The upshot, however, is this: your eligibility for VA healthcare likely renders you ineligible for the health insurance subsidy under the Affordable Care Act. (Thank you for your service!) In other words, you need to get enrolled and verified in the VA healthcare system as soon as possible. Thankfully, this is pretty painless as far as VA processes go. The first step is to go to VA.gov, find your nearest center, and call them. Tell them you need to enroll in the system. They will make an appointment for you. All you really need to do is show up. You will be given a physical, they will do lab work on your blood, and you will be given a drug test. (I have no idea what happens if you fail the drug test, though if you know, let me know in the comments.)
Note that if you are hale and hearty and never get sick, you still need to visit your clinic annually for a screening. If you fall behind, you might have to re-enroll. For routine medical issues, the system isn’t that bad, in my limited experience, though don’t expect to see a doctor quickly. For medicines, however, it’s a pretty good deal, and I’ve found communication with my primary care physician to be pretty good. (You can even email your doctor through the VA health portal.)
FIND A NEW PLACE TO LIVE
If you have a current clearance, and you have an education (or are working on one), you probably want to find a job. If you put in enough time in uniform, you know how to move across the country, so why limit yourself when you get out? If you can’t find a job in your city, find a city with your job! If moving is an option, ClearanceJobs has already done the heavy lifting for you. Among the top hiring areas are Texas, Virginia, Maryland, California, Florida, and Washington D.C. We have rounded up everything from salary averages and reviews of the local education system to housing prices and quality of life. If you are unable to move and are confined to a weak job market, we’ve also found some jobs you should be on the lookout for.
GET YOUR RESUME IN ORDER
The VA has written a stunningly comprehensive guide for veterans who are writing a resume for the civilian world. (Even if you’ve been out for ten years and already have a great job, it’s still worth checking out.) A common misconception among veterans and employers alike is that military jobs don’t translate to the civilian world. But that is untrue. There might not be a one-to-one application of the infantry MOS to the civilian world, but leadership and management skills are important to every company on the planet. Being responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment, or handling the logistics for a company or battalion or division—the civilian world is desperate for people like you, so make sure your resume reflects that experience.
START A BUSINESS (AND GET VETERANS PREFERENCE ON BIDS)
Veteran-owned small businesses get preference when competing for government contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs. And we aren’t talking small contracts, either. The VA spends $3 billion annually with small businesses. You need to get in on that action. ClearanceJobs has written a guide for enrolling your small business in this program. Note that the long term plan is to roll out veterans preference for the entire federal government, so it’s a great time to get signed up.
GET YOUR MIND RIGHT
There is a stigma attached to mental health issues, and heaven knows there’s an even bigger one attached to service-related mental health issues. But look, if you can’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of anyone else? You can sign up for mental health services through your VA physician, or by visiting the mental health portal at VA.gov. (Taking care of yourself will not cause you to lose your clearance.)
This list isn’t close to comprehensive; it’s barely even a start. Do you have pointers for veterans making the transition to the civilian world? Are there benefits that everyone should be aware of, but aren’t? Let us know in the comments below!