The Challenges of Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life

Military and Veterans

The transition from military to civilian life can be complicated. If you are struggling with adjusting to civilian life, you are not alone. Pew Research reports that most veterans say that the military prepared them for active duty, but only about 50% say that they were well prepared for the transition to civilian life.

Feelings of optimism about the future were largely different amongst the surveyed veterans, and much of that rested on the type of experiences that the veterans had while on active duty. Approximately 50% of the surveyed pre-9/11 veterans said that they were optimistic before departing from the military, while about 23% of post-9/11 veterans reported optimism in their future.

Many unique factors play into the challenges that veterans face after leaving the military, but it is 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.

The Most Common Transition Challenges from Military to Civilian Life

The challenges that you may experience as a veteran in transition from military life are unique to you based on your length of service and your role in the military, but you may identify with some of the most common transition challenges that many veterans face:

Preparing for the Workforce/Finding a Job

You may have never looked for a job as a veteran, especially if you were a career military person. If you did seek employment before going into active duty, it may have been many years ago. Now that you are looking for a role in the workforce, it can be difficult to translate what your skills or duties were in the military to civilian-based terms that you can include on a resume. You may have never created a resume. When you are in the military, your Field Service Records include your duties, advancement, pay, education, and other information, so a resume is not needed.

You may struggle as a job applicant with people, especially in an interview setting, who do not understand your military experience. They might not know how to relate to it. You may also struggle with acclimating to the work environment once you are hired. You may have difficulty learning new skills or adjusting to the job. The workplace may feel like a competitive environment, compared to being on duty with a team of fellow loyal workers.

Family and Social Environment

Your routine in your military role may look much different than your family or social environment. You may struggle with re-establishing your place in your home and with your family. And, when you return to being at home vs. reporting to the military role each day, your family may also find themselves adjusting and reconnecting as a unit. Your on-duty life may have offered you plentiful social opportunities with your comrades but building relationships with people outside of the military can feel much different. You may struggle with finding social connections with people that have not experienced life as you did in the military.

Adjusting to New Routine and Structure

Life outside of the military may feel as if it takes on a different pace. You may be used to a rigid schedule, one that had clear expectations and a chain of command, and this can leave you struggling to find your footing. You may feel overwhelmed by the abundance of life choices that you now have. Life in the military also includes more structure with a supply of food, clothing, and housing. Setting yourself in the role of provider and finding yourself responsible for the necessities can be a huge adjustment.

What Can You Do? Tips and Support

Major life changes, like you are experiencing as you transition from military to civilian life, can lead to depression and anxiety. It can be difficult to feel balanced and fulfilled.

Here are some tips that can help you through the transition:

Find a Support System

Look for a mentor who has experienced a similar shift in life. Find an in-person or online support group for veterans in transition. Connect with people in your desired work field.


Take care of yourself by exercising, healthy eating, and building routines.

Go Easy on Yourself

Life changes are typically hard. Give yourself grace and time to adjust.

Here are some resources that may help you in your journey:

Veterans Employment Toolkit: This toolkit is designed to help you find and obtain employment. It contains many tools to assist veterans, transitioning service members, and their spouses.

Military-Transition Org: This site contains updated research, as well as connections to mentors, organizations, tools, training, advice, employers, and more to help veterans and their spouses in the transition to civilian life.

It can feel difficult to establish services and supports when transitioning from military to civilian life, but we can help you get started. Here are some Veteran Support Resources that can help you and your family, especially as you adjust to non-military life:

Service Members, Veterans, and Family Support

We are here to help. There is no shame or weakness in taking care of yourself. If you need assistance with behavioral health in the Region Five, coastal, southeastern Virginia, contact a local Community Service Board (CSB). Each board offers family, veteran, and crisis services. If you reside in the state of Virginia, find and reach out to your local CSB by clicking here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call:
Crisis Text Line: 741741
Regional Crisis Line (757) 656-7755
Veterans Crisis Line (800) 273-8255, Press 1
For Gun and Med Locks: Contact [email protected]

Immediate Crisis Support

Dial or text 988 for the National Suicide Crisis Line. If you are in the Region 5 area of Virginia, dial the local 24/7 crisis line at (757) 656-7755 to get someone faster.

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