Make Your Transition A Breeze With These 6 Steps

Photo by Sgt. Alisa J. Helin

Whether you recently separated from the military or have been discharged for several years, you will likely face some challenges acclimating back into your community. These challenges may include readjustment, regaining a sense of purpose, charting a path for your new life, and acquiring the skills and education you need to stay on that path. Here are six brief tips that may prove invaluable as you make a successful transition into the next phase of your life.

1. Settle into your next community.

Choosing where to live is one of the most important decisions we make as adults. Before starting the next phase of your life, it is imperative that you concentrate serious time and effort into deciding where to live next. Family, relationships, environment, hobbies, networking opportunities, quality of universities, and job market will all likely be factors in your decision. Moving is a difficult and time-consuming process, so taking the time to really assess your desires and plan ahead to smooth the transition and ease the stress on you and your loved ones. At each phase of life, we have different priorities. Measure twice and cut once; you will thank yourself down the road.

2. Register at your local Veterans Administration center.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs often receives criticism over its services, it is still a great resource and provides world-class health care. Getting registered at the VA is essential to the beginning of your transition process. It is important to get enrolled at the VA as soon as possible. Further, if you have service-related injuries or medical conditions, it is important to get those documented early on. There is nothing wrong with receiving professional consultation, diagnosis, treatment, and in some cases compensation, for injuries sustained while serving your country. Diagnosis of these conditions and a service-connected rating is designed to protect you later on in life. If, for instance, you injured your back or knees during a parachute jump but do not have severe problems now, the rating will help you if the condition worsens and it affects your employment prospects.

Similarly, do not be afraid to seek professional mental health care just because of what others may think. Do what is right for you and actively pursue the treatment and counseling you need. Your peers will respect you for it if you do it properly. Many veterans organizations are available to help you navigate the process if needed. To get registered at your local VA, it is easiest to make an in-person visit.

3. Get involved with local veteran service organizations.

There are more veterans groups out there today than ever before and there is something for everyone. Getting connected to local veterans organizations is important for several reasons. First, it re-establishes that sense of community that we all miss when we leave the service. Second, veteran organizations can offer an opportunity to continue serving. Countless groups are committed to creating ways for veterans to continue to serve in their communities at home through service projects, fellowships, leadership programs, charity events, and many more. They also provide excellent resources. Whether you are looking for educational assistance, political participation, help navigating the VA, career assistance, fitness events, or just about anything else, you can find it in a group near you.

Related: How should veterans service organizations support the post-9/11 community? »

Finally, veterans organizations are an excellent way to network and make new friends. In all of these organizations, you will find some of the most brilliant, motivated, and connected community leaders in the nation. Most importantly, one day you will find yourself in their shoes, reaching out a hand to help a fellow veteran in transition.

4. Enroll in a school or university and put your GI Bill to good use.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the single greatest tool ever offered to transitioning veterans. When I joined the Marines, I only ever wanted to fight and serve; the idea of going to college never appealed to me. However, within a month of discharge, I quickly realized that all of the jobs I wanted required a college degree that I didn't have. I knew I had the GI Bill but I had no idea how to use it, how to register for classes, or how to navigate the college system. Thanks to great mentors and resources, I graduated last May from one of the best universities in the nation and it didn't cost me a dime.

If you're like me and have no college background, you will probably have to start at your local community college. This isn’t a bad thing. Community colleges offer cheap classes, flexible schedules, and opportunities to explore different fields so you can really decide what kind of degree you want to pursue without a large financial commitment. Work hard, earn top grades, and speak regularly with counselors about your career aspirations.

Over time, find a university that you want to transfer to, make sure they have a solid veterans support office, and select a degree that leads toward a career that interests you. The purpose of college is to prepare you for a specific career, so take vocational tests, think long and hard, and select something that really interests you and also offers career options when you graduate.

5. Get tech savvy.

Our world is rapidly changing and whether you are interested in technology or not, you need to start learning the basics. Coding, programming, web design, and a basic understanding of information systems will be absolutely essential to many veterans hitting the job market today. The upside is that although technology itself is advancing faster than we can keep up with, the basics remain the same. There are a wide variety of books, applications, and online tools that can help you get a grasp the latest technology trends and skill sets. Code Academy and General Assembly are two resources that offer online, easy-to-access technology classes. Additionally, I would like to challenge any veteran readers to write and submit your own blogs on this topic.

6. Invest in your future by putting money aside in retirement plans.

This tip is essential to your long-term success: Financial planning for your future starts now. Taking advantage of investment plans such as your company's 401k, or personal plans like an IRA or R-IRA, are great ways to save money for your future. As for personal retirement accounts, do your research and pick what works best for you. For younger veterans, a Roth IRA may be a good choice. Research mutual funds that received a good Morningstar rating and read financial articles and journals. Speak with a financial advisor if you need to. The market is always changing so don't worry too much about short-term losses. Do your best to max out your contributions and you will be glad you did when you reach the time for retirement.

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