Military Transition: Finding Social Support as a Civilian

Military and Veterans, Military Transition, SMVF

Military life comes with unique challenges and one of the most difficult actually comes at the end of service. If you’ve found that leaving the military and making the transition back to civilian life has been harder than you thought it would be, you’re not alone: nearly half of Veterans say that their transition was more difficult than they expected.

Transitioning Veterans often face several common challenges, including a lack of social support. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. You can find the support you need to transition successfully – if you know where to look.

Feeling Out of Place as a New Veteran

The following is the personal transition story of Tara Elsenpeter, a Veterans Substance Use Disorder Therapist here in Region Five:

When I transitioned to civilian life after 15 years in the Navy, I had things figured out regarding school and my future career goals. What I didn’t have figured out was a support network in the new area to which I was moving. Most of my friends who had served or were still serving were living in California or Virginia, so I felt very alone during my first year in Middle Tennessee.

I returned to school at 43 years old and felt out of place in the beginning. My classmates were 18-22 years old; I had nothing in common with them. 

Going back to School? Find Your Campus Veteran Center First

The Veteran Center on campus was a good support for me. It allowed me to meet others who had “been there and done that.” It was also a great place to obtain information about various resources in the local area. There are a lot of places where Veterans may find social support in their communities. Most universities have a Veteran Center, a great place to start. 

How To Connect With Other Veterans

Also, pay attention to your classmates. It isn’t foolproof, but we have a knack for picking each other out in a group. Veterans tend to gravitate towards other Veterans in social settings. It’s like a sixth sense; we recognize the haircuts, how we dress, how we carry ourselves, and how we speak to people. We possess a sense of pride and respect while serving, which carries over to our new civilian lives. 

Other means of finding support are local Facebook groups for Veterans, LinkedIn, the VFW, the American Legion, and local non-profit agencies. Living right outside of Nashville, I was blessed to meet Veterans through some of the larger non-profits in the area and volunteer at them.

It was amazing to me how interconnected the Veteran community is. Someone always knows somebody who knows another person within the community. This is a great opportunity for networking and building a social support system! 

What advice I would offer to other Veterans and service members who are reintegrating into civilian life is to keep your eyes open to your surroundings. Look for pins, patches, stickers, hats, service animals, etc., that may identify that the person you are interacting with at the post office, standing in line next to you, etc., is a Veteran. Talk to them, ask them general questions about their service, and ask if they are involved in local agencies. You will be amazed at how many people you can meet this way!

The three postal clerks at my local post office in Tennessee were Veterans. One of which was part of that someone-who-knows-someone-network I formed. When I needed help in different situations, there was always someone to call who could make another call, and so on. 

There is no other community like that of people who have served! Our service changes who we are in nearly every aspect, and it can be tough to remember who we were before our service.

Self-sacrifice and being of service become a part of who we are. Joining local Veteran organizations or volunteering at non-profits helps to build connections with others who “get it,” but can also help us regain a sense of purpose, which many of us feel we lose once we transition out of the military.

Worried About Finding Social Support as a Civilian?

Social support is crucial during a big life change. If you’re worried about finding social support during your transition, we’ve got you covered. Our Service Member, Veterans and Family Support (SMVF) Program provides support, resources and community to military members, service Veterans and their families.

The SMVF team is made up of veterans from all military branches so there will always be someone who understands your struggles and can help you create a clear path to where you want to go. We are here for you with whatever you may need, whether it’s help finding a job or advancing in your career, mental health support or information and resources to help guide you through your transition.

Find out more about the Region Five SMVF Program today.

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