Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on RallyPoint.
I retired on Sept. 1, 2014. In the two years that led up to that date, I found that there were many things that I had neglected to prepare for, and yet, I also found several communities that provided much-needed support so that my transition was not as bad as it could have been. My retirement could have been better, and I could always have been better prepared, but I know now that no amount of preparation will lead to a flawless retirement.
Retirement for any military member is a scary, frustrating, and yet exhilarating process.
We are scared because we are basically taking 20+ years (26+ in my case) and throwing it away. Everything we've done, all the junior servicemen and women we've helped, mentored, chastised, and even disciplined or punished; all the training, the sweating, the bleeding, and the hurting — done. No more stress about a soldier who screwed up and failed a drug test. No more worrying about the safety of your new guys on the range. No more long hours spent in the shop, trying to accomplish a task or mission.
Your skills are no longer needed; in fact, they probably don't even apply to what you'll need to do for your civilian life. Even if those skills do apply, you won't be using them in the same capacity. Then you can't find a job. You can't translate your military skills or terminology into civilian lingo. Lastly, you're planning, saving, hoping you'll have enough money to make it six months without a job if it comes to that.
Retirement is frustrating because there is so much, too much that needs to be done before you retire. There's training, transition classes, research, job search, resume preparation, looking for a home where you plan to live post-retirement (if you don't already have one). The list is endless.
Then you start your out processing. You have to clear the central issue facility. You have to clear your unit. Your unit won't let you clear until you turn in your “special ops” gear (my situation) and get a memo saying you've done so. You have to clear your hand receipts, which you can't clear post until you've cleared the unit. All this needs to be done before you hit terminal leave. It never seems to end.
You have to go to the VA. You have to decide: Do you file a disability claim? What can you expect? How does this all tie in? The representative won't help you. They don't care. They make you print close to 1,000 pages of medical records, single sided, and turn them in. They spend weeks reviewing them. Then, there are the seemingly endless physical and medical appointments. After that's all done, you're told it'll take six to twelve months before your claim is approved.
Finally, it's exhilarating. Friends wish you well. You look forward to not having to get up at 5:30 am to go run. You don't have to worry about mission anymore. Your mission is to finish getting ready for retirement. Usually, the commander leaves you alone; he doesn't want to see you. After all, you're a senior guy (or gal) and should know what you need to do — go do it.
The last thing I learned about retirement: You can't prepare for it, at least, not completely. You try to, and you do everything you can, but still there are things that slip through the cracks. Just do the best you can.
You want my advice?
On pay. When you get ready to retire, make sure you understand how much your pay will change. Start saving at least a year out. You need to have at least six months of your current total pays, including allowances for house and food, and any other compensations that you've been relying on. Remember, 50% of your base pay is actually only about 35% of your total pays.
On VA disability. If you're going to file a VA compensation claim, start documenting all medical issues at least three or four years out, if you haven't been already. Research your problems at the VA's website. Get a realistic view there of what you can expect for disability compensation. Be prepared to wait up to a year for it to kick in.
On skills and education. Start translating military skills into civilian skills. Take courses that will help you find a job, even if you don't plan on using them. If you don't have at least a bachelor’s degree, get one before you retire or use your G.I. Bill to get it immediately afterward. No, a degree isn't everything. You don't need it for a job, even for a good job, but if you have a degree, your annual pay at that new job will be at least a few grand more, and a degree does make it easier to get that job.
On resumes. Make a master resume with everything, and then prune it down into “job specific” resumes tailored to each job you apply for. Have someone, preferably several people, look at your resumes and hack them to pieces. Also, get at least one or two agencies to review it; there are several that will do a free review for vets. Don't forget to include your volunteer experience as well. If you have a security clearance, make sure you list it on the first line of your resume.
On the job search. Submit a resume specifically tailored to the job you are applying for. If you apply for a different job, submit another resume tailored to that specific job. If you are turned down for the position, see if you can get feedback on why. Review your resume, and see if there's something that maybe triggered a negative response. Don't quit. Keep searching, even if you get turned down several times. Use any of the job search agencies that you think can help. I listed my resume on ClearanceJobs.com, Monster.com, USAJobs.com, and about two or three other sites. The VFW, American Legion, and many other organizations have free job placement and resume review services. Use them.
Those are just a few things you need to do, and while I can't list everything, these are definitely the most important.
Oh, there is one other thing: Enjoy retirement.