Military to Civilian Transition: How Soon Should I Start Planning?

Military and Veterans, Military Transition, SMVF

Deciding to join the military is a big step, and so is deciding to leave.

The transition from Service member to civilian can be just as difficult as the transition you experienced when you first joined. You might look back and think that you were uninformed and unprepared then – but the truth is that it’s likely that you’re unprepared now. According to one survey published on the veteran-run website, nearly half of respondents (48%) felt that their transition from the military was more difficult than expected.

When Should I Start Planning for Military to Civilian Transition?

It used to be standard practice to start the transition process six months before. Now, it’s recognized that more time is usually needed. Many transitioning Service members start planning a year or more ahead. When you should start depends on your post-service needs and wants, but there are a few guidelines you can follow.

Military to Civilian Transition Timeline

Jacey Eckhart, MA CPCC, a Certified Professional Career Coach, military sociologist and the Transition Master Coach for, says that it helps to think about military transition “as if it were Major League Baseball – in seasons.”

The Minor League (12-18 Months Out)

You’ve made the decision to leave the military, but you’re not “in transition.” There’s not a whole lot you can do just yet, but you can start to plan.

  • Talk to your family about how you see your post-service life – Where would you like to live? Is there a certain career you’re interested in? Do you want to go to school?
  • If you have plans that require that you take a course or get a certification, now’s the time to do that 
  • You also want to take stock of anything you should do before you leave the military, like taking care of any medical problems
  • Be aware that it might take longer than you think to find work after leaving service. Start to save some money so you’re prepared
  • If you’re planning to use your G.I. Bill to go to school, start thinking about that now. What requirements do you have to fulfill for admittance to the school and the specific program?

FYI: Most colleges have an application deadline of January or February for summer or fall classes, so you may want to time your transition around that if you want to go to school after your service ends.

The Offseason (9-12 Months Out)

Of the nearly 200,000 Service members transitioning from military to civilian life each year, only one in four have jobs lined up. This is why it’s crucial to get serious about your job search earlier.

  • Take this time to update your LinkedIn profile – it’s more important than ever when it comes to your job search
  • This is also the time to officially start the transition process. Inform your unit and command of your intention and start relevant paperwork.
  • If you’re planning on going to school right after your transition, now’s the time to start applying
  • If you plan on buying a home after transition, educate yourself about VA home loans and the process of buying a house. You might even be able to get time off to search for a post-separation job or housing

FYI: The military’s required Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is available one year before separation or two years before retirement.

The Preseason (6-9 Months Out)

Once you’ve decided what you want to do after you leave the military, you can prepare by getting more intentional with your actions.

  • If you haven’t already, make a post-transition budget. Make sure you can live comfortably for six months without income
  • Request your household good shipment. Even if it’s a voluntary separation, the government will still typically pay for a final move to your home of record or a new location, up to six months after your final out date. But a word of warning: depending on where you’re headed, you might have to pay some of that cost out of pocket
  • Start thinking about your post-service healthcare options. You can extend your TRICARE coverage for up to six months after you leave service, but you’ll need to find your own health insurance after that. If you won’t have insurance through an employer, consider getting government-sponsored coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
  • Figure out how you want to roll over your military savings
  • Write a specialized résumé that includes keywords related to the role you want. This is important because companies often use automated systems to search through résumés for the keywords they’re interested in
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile also contains these keywords 
  • This is also a great time to start networking. If you have anyone in your life you consider a mentor, ask to get together for a chat about your plans over coffee or dinner
  • If you want to do the SkillBridge program, remember that it takes place over the last six months of service, so go ahead and work on your pitch to command

Spring Training (3-6 Months Out)

  • Review your budget
  • If you’re eligible for disability or related compensation benefits, go ahead and fill out VA Form 21-526EZ. This guide from says to “declare everything on your outgoing medical exam.” Your duty station and Veterans Service Organizations (like the DAV) will assist with this process.
  • Research the companies you’re interested in working for
  • Work with a career coach to tailor your résumé to the role you want and to improve your interview techniques

The Season (1-3 Months Out)

  • Choose your health insurance
  • Make sure you know all about the veteran’s benefits in your home state (or whatever state you’ll be living in)
  • If you’re going to college, visit your school’s veterans benefits office
  • Network – reconnect with old friends or colleagues back home (or wherever you’d like to move)
  • Submit job applications
  • Do phone interviews or, if possible, in-person interviews

The Postseason (After Your Separation or Retirement Date)

  • One reason that many veterans struggle to find a job after transition is that hiring slows down at certain times of the year. If possible, plan your transition so that you’re available for a new job during those hiring peaks in the early part of the year
  • Take advantage of support and resources from the VA or local organizations or support groups.

The Challenges of Military to Civilian Transition

Of course, finding a job isn’t the only obstacle that you might encounter. While every veteran is unique, here are some common challenges that many face as they transition back to civilian life.

Family and Social Environment

Post-transition, you may struggle with:

  • Re-establishing your place in your home and family
  • Finding social connections with people that have not experienced life as you did in the military

Adjusting to New Routine and Structure

  • Leaving the military means a lot of adjusting
  • Even if you’re looking forward to going home, it might take a while to reacclimate to a less structured environment.

Lacking a Sense of Purpose

  • Now that you’re out of the military, you might wonder what your purpose in the world is, especially if the military is the only career you’ve ever known. A lot of transitioning veterans struggle to find meaning in a new role.

Physical Handicaps

  • Combat injuries can impact your self-esteem
  • They can also make it harder for you to get a job

Poor Mental Health

While we all have poor mental health sometimes and anyone can develop a mental health condition, veterans face certain challenges that often lead to mental health struggles. Some of these challenges include:

The risk of poor mental health is higher when you’re not prepared for transition. 

Hampton Roads, Virginia: Support and Resources for Transitioning Service Members

If you’re in or will be moving to coastal, southeastern Virginia (also known as Hampton Roads or the Greater Tidewater area), there are local resources and supports that can help and guide you as you transition back to civilian life. 

The Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program (SSG Fox SPGP)

The SSG Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program makes it possible for us to to meet the needs of veterans and their families through outreach, suicide prevention services, and connection to VA and community resources.

Services offered include:

Peer Support

Talk to fellow veterans with similar lived experiences. These volunteers are specially trained in peer support related to suicide or mental health

Job Coaching

Assistance with résumé writing, job searching, job interviewing and job skill development

Vocational Specialist

The vocational specialist connects veterans with services that foster workforce participation, job readiness, and job opportunities with the aim of maximizing income and thereby increasing financial stability and overall well being

Case Manager

Provides referrals for health care services, daily living services, personal financial planning services, transportation services, income support services, fiduciary and representative payee services, legal services, childcare services and housing counseling

Training Facilitator

Works with veterans to help them gain entry-level to senior management skills and to develop the skills they need to succeed in their jobs

Regional VA Hospitals

VA hospitals and clinics provide free or low-cost service to certain veterans, like those who are disabled or have conditions related to their service.

We have several VA medical centers in the Hampton Roads/Greater Tidewater area:

Virginia Department of Veterans Services

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services provides resources like job and transition assistance and spouse and family support services

Your Local Community Services Board

In Virginia, regional community services boards (CSBs) are the primary providers of behavioral health care and services for individuals and families living with mental health conditions or intellectual/developmental disability. CSBs provide services to our community members based on their ability to pay.

If you’re in or will be moving to the Greater Tidewater/Hampton Roads area of Virginia, you’ll be in Region Five. You can find a list of Region Five CSBs here. If you’re in another part of Virginia, you can find a complete list of Virginia CSBs here.

Region Five Is Dedicated To Helping Veterans Move Forward After Transition

Many factors impact the unique experiences that each veteran has after leaving the military, but it’s important to know that this is a major adjustment period that can lead to mental health struggles, including depression, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide.

If you’re feeling unsure about what life will be like after your military to civilian transition, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. We can offer real support, practical assistance and compassion through our SSG Fox Program.

Want to learn more about the program? Email one of the Program directors today:

Regional – Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF) Navigator

William (Whit) McNeill
Email: [email protected]

Service Members, Veterans and Families (SMVF) Operations Manager

Charles Stamper
Email: [email protected]

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