A couple of weeks ago, I posted this question on a Facebook Group I started to serve as a resource for servicemembers looking to separate or retire from active service. This article isn’t going to solve any of these questions but will recap them as a partial checklist of things you may want to consider before you begin your military transition.
Below is a compilation of some of the common concerns servicemembers had about their military transition:
Military transition concern 1: Cash flow
- What will my financial needs look like post-military?
- Will I have enough income or savings to support myself?
I don’t have the answers. However, even though this article was written for retirees, it might help you think about some of the financial needs you might want to consider regardless of whether you’re retiring or separating. That way, you can get closer to the answer that works for you.
Military Transition Concern 2: Housing
Housing is stressful enough while you’re on active duty. With that said, you do have some confidence that you’re going into a community where there’s financial certainty (in the form of active duty income), and there is generally a support network of people who can help you ease into your new duty station.
Once you start the transition process (whether it’s separation, retirement, or transferring from active to reserve/National Guard duty), this relatively straightforward process can take on a whole new complexity. It depends on a lot of other factors, such as where you plan to live, what type of job you’re going to have (or if you have one), family status, and many other things. Also, once you’ve retired, it can be much harder to qualify for a loan if you haven’t found the right job, and your income isn’t what it used to be.
Housing definitely tops a lot of peoples’ lists, and it should be. However, it might be one that you have to postpone figuring out until some other pieces fall into place.
Military Transition Concern 3: Insurance
Where to begin? Let’s start by defining what needs to be insured. There are certain things, like vehicle insurance, that are mandated by law. Health care is also mandated by law, but Tricare (if you can maintain eligibility) fulfills that requirement, or you might find that a prospective employer has a health care plan. So that leaves two major gaps… life insurance and disability insurance.
SGLI used to fulfill the requirement for life insurance, but now you might have to find your own policy, evaluate VGLI, or go without (generally not a good idea if you have a family). For life insurance, the general rule of thumb is that as long as there is an insurable need (i.e. people important to you will miss your income, ability to save money, or in the case of stay-at-home spouses, maintain a household without having to pay for child care and other help), you should have life insurance, for both members/parents. This is definitely a concern. Visit the Military Life Insurance Guide on this site for more information about the types of life insurance available to military veterans.
The other major insurance issue that you’ll need to think about is disability insurance. In the military, the VA handles all disability claims. But, what if you don’t file a VA claim, and later are disabled for something that happens completely unrelated to your military service? For example, what if you’re a retired pilot and you go blind. You might be able to file for VA disability, but that doesn’t give you any of the income you would miss out on because you’re no longer able to fly for that commercial airline or any other job that used to require your physical talents. Disability insurance is definitely worth thinking about.
Military Concern 4: Job Dissatisfaction
That’s a very common concern. When the Navy stationed me at FedEx, I met a couple of people who got into very rewarding and challenging jobs. I also met a person who retired as a colonel, then spent 10 years working at a desk with zero supervisory duties before he managed his first group of 5 people. This was a man who had commanded multiple units at every pay grade, for over 20 years. Job dissatisfaction achieved! (read more about this story). This definitely should be on your mind (or your spouse’s mind), as this causes a LOT of stress in the first few years after transition.
Military Transition Concern 5: Being Bored
This isn’t a concern of mine, but I can definitely understand the frustration that people experience when they go from “High Speed, Low Drag” to a ‘desk job.’ Although a lot of civilians tell servicemembers that they appreciate their service, many civilian employers just don’t understand how to properly employ someone with a military mindset. As a result, many people end up in jobs with far less responsibility, autonomy, or flexibility than they’re accustomed to (like in the example above).
Although I’m definitely not an expert, my experience has led me to believe that starting your own business is one sound way to avoid boredom. For the first time in a long time, I go to bed with a longer to-do list than I started with, and I am not bored at all. The other way to avoid boredom is to get a job with a military-friendly employer. Look here for a list of the top military-friendly employers.
Of course, Doug Nordman, of The Military Guide wrote this entry about being bored and other retirement myths, so I think he had a slightly different meaning. Since Doug and his wife committed to living a post-military lifestyle that has nothing to do with being employed, he could have just meant that there’s only so much surfing in Hawaii you can do every day, so being bored is a different challenge—trying to find something constructive for the full 24-hour workday. That’s also a challenge many retirees (financially independent retirees) face, and a legitimate one.
That’s also a problem that most people don’t have to worry about until they achieve financial independence…when I get to that point, I’ll do a little happy dance before I start being bored.
Military Transition Concern 6: Having to Move to Your Job
Relocation is a way of life. However, this should be something that you look into earlier rather than later, so you can find (or create your own) opportunities. Obviously, a lot of people would rather have a job in the place they’re retiring to. However, a lot of people take the opposite approach and would rather move, either away or to a certain location, industry, job, or to work with certain people. Coming to grips with this sooner will help a lot.
Military Transition Concern 7: Admin Separation
I can’t think of a more challenging situation than having to go through an administrative separation. With an administrative separation, you’re usually dealing at the service’s pace. It can be very quick, or it can be a protracted affair. Either way, there is probably nothing more terrifying than being faced with dealing with all of the separation/retirement concerns, but with an uncertain timeline. The only thing I can suggest is to reach out early, quickly and often to the financial counselors on your installation. These folks are super responsive, and definitely understand the sense of urgency you’re dealing with.
Military Transition Concern 8: Identity Change
This is kind of an iceberg…you see only a small part of the whole picture. There’s definitely the adjustment that occurs when you take off the uniform and have to worry about what you’re going to wear every day. There’s also all the little stuff…coworkers with separate lives, losing that sense of camaraderie & small unit integrity, working with people who aren’t nearly as motivated, etc.
The same goes for spouses…not having a sense of community and support to help you through deployments. As my wife says, “It’s just not the same, and no one gets it.” However, this can be an opportunity, instead of just a threat. Being that person (or family) that steps into a largely civilian workplace or neighborhood, you have the opportunity to really stand out, just by finding things that could be improved, then taking the time to help improve them.
You don’t get results overnight, and you can’t expect to be the 100% solution to all the problems you see, but being the ‘go-to’ person in a room of onlookers is a great way to establish yourself and to retain a sense of identity. On the plus side, all it takes is for one key person to notice. That key person might be your next employer, or someone who can introduce you to a job opportunity, or who can help you get recognized in your community. Identity change is both a threat AND opportunity.
This is just a small list of the concerns that seem to be floating around within the military community amongst servicemembers and their families. However, it’s definitely not an all-encompassing list. I would love to hear from you so I can better understand your issues, questions, and concerns. Please feel free to post your comments on this post.