Whatever your plans after you depart the military — whether you plan to use your G.I. Bill benefits to begin an education, training, or certification program or you plan to move directly from the military into a specific career path — you are about to undertake a major transition. After your time in military service, acclimating to civilian life will require patience, adjustment, and management of any physical, practical, or mental health challenges connected with your service.
The transition to civilian life is not always an easy one. Though you may have left behind the danger of the mission or the pressures of regimented military culture, you face a new set of perils and pressures as you transition back to life at home, school, and work. You may face practical challenges from employment, housing, and healthcare to individual challenges related to your service, including medical needs, mental health issues, and the general difficulty of resuming a normal, healthy lifestyle.
These challenges are normal, and each veteran will experience them differently. But as a veteran, it’s important that you know about and take advantage of the many programs in place to help you navigate this transition. We outline key support services for some of the most important dimensions of your transition process. Take advantage of all services that apply to your situation.
The Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a program designed to prepare you for some of the most important dimensions of transition. TAP provides information, tools, and training to help you and your family prepare for and navigate the experience of transitioning from military service to civilian life. Start by visiting the Department of Defense website and selecting your branch of service or by contacting your local Transition Assistance Office.
The Transition GPS Curriculum
The TAP program is more than a program for outgoing service members. It’s a curriculum that you’ll apply at key points throughout your military career. This outcome-based curriculum — called Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) — helps military service members transition to civilian life while identifying and pursue career goals.
This ongoing transition education program is designed to help you begin planning for your post-military career and, simultaneously, to help you align your immediate military goals with your civilian goals. If you are unable to access this education in a physical classroom setting, the military does provide access to a Transition GPS Virtual Curriculum as well.
The program merges a core curriculum with individually-chosen subjects as well as career technical training and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Meeting Career Readiness Standards (CRS)
As a military service member approaching the transition to civilian life, you must demonstrate that you are prepared to pursue your “post-separation goals.” The Department of Defense defines this readiness using a metric called Career Readiness Standards (CRS). Your CRS is a mandatory rating designed to ensure that you are departing the military with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed in civilian life. The Department of Defense outlines 9 steps you’ll need to take in pursuit of your CRS:
- Completion of an Individual Transition Plan
- Development of a 12-month post-separation budget
- Registration on the VA’s eBenefits website
- Completion of Continuum of Military Service Opportunity Counseling
- Completion of a Military Occupational Code (MOC) Crosswalk
- Identify training and certification requirements in a chosen professional field
- Complete individual testing assessments
- Receive a Department of Labor (DOL) Gold Card for American Job Centers.
- Develop employment package including resume, references and at least two submitted job applications.
If you’ll be transitioning into a higher education setting or a career training program, you’ll also need to complete:
- An assessment tool relating to your educational aptitude
- A comparison of academic or training institution choices
- A college, university, or technical training application, or the receipt of an acceptance letter
- Confirmation of one-on-one counseling with a college, university, or technical training institution.
Visit the Department of Defense TAP program for more detail on TAP, the Transition GPS Curriculum, and the acquisition of your CRS.
Other Transition Services
In addition to your TAP training program, the military provides access to a number of transition support resources both during your service and on an ongoing basis:
- Installation briefings: classes and seminars on goal setting, change management, and evaluating job offers.
- Individual assistance: provides personal help for you and your spouse for up to 180 days after the end of service, including one-on-one support, resources, needs assessments, and referrals.
Get Your VMET
In order to reference your military service background and experience in job applications and other materials, you’ll need to present your VMET, or Verification of Military Experiences and Training form DD 2586. Your service branch is required to provide you with this assessment in order to verify your experience and training. The assessment details your knowledge, experience, and skills as they relate to your civilian career prospects. To download your VMET, create an account or login with the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program.
Your G.I. Benefits
As a veteran, you’ve earned a wide range of benefits, many of them under the umbrella of the G.I. Bill. This includes an expansive set of support resources as well as scholarship and grant funding for higher education, professional training, and certification programs. To learn more about using your G.I. Bill, check out our Complete Guide to Using Your G.I. Bill.
If you haven’t already done it, you should also begin the process of exploring your benefits by creating an eBenefits account through the VA.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also advises contacting a Benefits Advisor directly through your TAP Manager. A Benefits Advisor can be your personal guide through the transition process, working one-on-one with you to help you prepare for civilian life and take advantage of all the benefits you’ve earned.
Another major challenge for many veterans involves making the transition from service to employment. Finding a job can be a full-time job in and of itself. Fortunately, your military background has given you a wide range of skills and experiences that will be of value in the workplace. But you may need some assistance or support translating those skills and experiences into employment.
Veterans.com is a valuable first stop on your way to post-military employment, a portal that points directly to a range of employment opportunities with industries and organizations that show preference to veteran hires, as well as a host of other employment support resources.
The Military Skills Translator is another good portal for exploring career avenues based on your unique background and experience. This tool allows you to enter information regarding your branch of service and your military rank in order to determine the civilian jobs for which you might best be suited. Specify your interest in law enforcement and use this tool to identify the law enforcement roles for which your experience, training, and service qualify you.
My Next Move is a resource aimed at helping you search for job opportunities based on keywords, industries or your own military experiences.
The National Resource Directory (NRD) connects wounded warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers to support programs and services.
It can be difficult to find stable housing or adequate living conditions following service, especially if you’re a veteran managing medical, mental health, or employment challenges. There are a number of programs aimed at veterans who are facing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. If this describes your situation, it’s important that you take advantage of these programs, some of which also include access to healthcare, legal support, and other re-entry services:
- VA’s Programs for At-Risk Veterans and Their Families
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH)
- Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF)
- Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program
Speak to your Benefits Advisor to find out which of these programs apply to you.
Seek Mental Health Support
Military veterans are at a higher risk of mental health challenges including depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a veteran, you should consider preemptively exploring the mental health services available to you. Begin by seeking support through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA, and a host of related agencies, offer a spectrum of resources that are designed to help military veterans cope with mental health challenges and transition into various dimensions of civilian life.
- Vet Centers provides readjustment counseling in or near your community. You are encouraged to contact Vet Centers through its Facebook Community page to initiate contact with a counselor in your region.
- PTSD treatment options are available through the VA no matter where you live. Every VA medical center keeps PTSD specialists on staff. There are also an additional 200 specialized military PTSD treatment centers across the country. Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) also offer access to PTSD care.
- You can find one of these programs in your vicinity by using the VA PTSD Program Locator.
- VA Support for Alcohol and Drug Misuse is contained within the Veterans Health Administration, offers confidential screening, and provides you with a locator for VA Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Treatment Programs.
- Give An Hour (GAH) — in partnership with the University of Phoenix — provides counseling to transitioning vets. According to GAH: “since 2005, Give an Hour has focused on providing free mental health care to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members, veterans, and their families.”
Veterans Crisis Line puts you in immediate contact with qualified Veterans Affairs responders, trained to understand the mental health challenges unique to veterans undergoing readjustment. Responders are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.
All calls, chats and text messages are confidential, and support is available immediately. Support is also available for deaf or hearing impaired individuals.
- Veterans Crisis Line advises that if you experience any difficulty connecting by phone with live support, you should contact them through text or chat.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for easing the transition from military service to civilian life. Every veteran faces a unique set of challenges. Make sure to take advantage of the resources that you’ve earned through your service.
For more information and resources on getting a quality education, earning a degree, or getting a great job, return to the Military Education Headquarters.