Transitioning From the Military

By Jason Alderman

Reentering the civilian workforce after a career in the armed forces can be challenging even during the best of times. But with today's economic uncertainty and high unemployment rates, retiring and discharged military personnel may need extra help to develop a game plan and manage their personal finances during that transition.

The issue has gained increased visibility with the recent creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office for Service Member Affairs, to be headed up by Holly Patraeus, wife of Gen. David Patraeus and long-time advocate for educating military families on consumer issues.

Here are a few resources to help with the important financial and job-transition decisions you may face:

Transition Assistance. The government provides an intensive three-day Transition Assistance Program (www.taonline.com/TAPOffice) to separating or retiring service members and their spouses. Workshop attendees learn about setting career objectives, conducting job searches, current occupational and labor market conditions, resume preparation and interviewing techniques.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' VetSuccess Program (www.vetsuccess.gov) provides additional assistance to military personnel released because of service-connected disabilities. For those whose disability is so severe they cannot immediately consider work, VetSuccess offers services to improve their ability to live as independently as possible.

Finding a job. Although expertise acquired during military service often translates readily into marketable civilian job skills, it sometimes takes extra effort to make those links more apparent. Consider these tactics:

  • Begin your research well before you leave the military – a year or more, ideally.
  • Contact organizations that link job seekers with military-friendly employers such as Hire a Hero (www.hireahero.org), Military Exits (www.militaryexits.com), Helmets to Hardhats (helmetstohardhats.org) and Vetjobs.com (www.vetjobs.com).
  • Make your resume civilian-friendly – watch out for military jargon that might be hard to understand.
  • Become acquainted with and post your resume on popular online job sites such as Monster.com (www.monster.com), Careerbuilder.com (www.careerbuilder.com) and USAJOBS.com, the government's official job site (www.usajobs.com).
  • Many service members have one government-provided relocation left when they leave the service; so if a potential job entails a move and you're flexible about where to live, use that free relocation to your competitive advantage.

Continuing education. While investigating career options, learn what additional required education or certifications you lack so you can begin acquiring those skills now – or at least map out a game plan for how to proceed after you leave the military.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill (www.gibill.va.gov) provides financial support for education and housing to military veterans, including undergraduate and graduate degrees and vocational/technical training. Other VA-sponsored education assistance programs include:

  • Reserve Educational Assistance Program for reservists called up to active duty.
  • Survivors and Dependents Assistance for eligible dependents of certain veterans.
  • VA Work-Study Allowance Program for full- or three-quarter-time students in college degree, vocational or professional programs.

One last tip: Money could be tight during your transition, so it's vital to develop a budget you can live with. Numerous free budgeting tools, including interactive budget calculators, are available online at sites such as the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission's www.mymoney.gov, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org), www.mint.com, and Practical Money Skills for Life (www.practicalmoneyskills.com), a free personal financial management site run by Visa Inc.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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