When you know you'll be leaving the military (even if your departure is a year or more away) it's time to start planning your return to civilian life. This is a significant event for you and your family, so you'll want to approach it armed with good information, the right skills and a well-developed plan. Take advantage of available military transition assistance programs to gain the knowledge and practical tools you need to make the switch back to civilian life with confidence.
The Transition Assistance mission
Transition assistance is a package of benefits and services, many of them mandated by Congress, to prepare service members and their families for a successful transition to civilian life. Transition assistance helps you answer these important questions associated with leaving the military:
- What skills, talents and experience do I have that are needed in the civilian workforce?
- What kind of work do I want to do?
- Will I need additional training or education to reach my career goals?
- How do I search for a civilian job and make myself as competitive as possible?
- How can I make the transition to civilian life easier for my family and me?
Transition assistance is a step-by-step process of discovery and decision-making that should begin many months or even years before the date of separation. Service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserve, who are being discharged, released from active duty or are retiring, as well as their spouses, are eligible for transition assistance.
Transition Assistance Programs
Each military service branch has a transition assistance program. Although the organization and procedures for transition assistance programs vary, they all offer the same benefits and services. Transition assistance offices are located on most military installations in the United States and overseas and have different names based on the branch of service:
You can visit your installation's transition assistance office to learn about services, schedule appointments and enroll in classes. You can usually receive transition assistance from a branch of service that is different from yours if it‘s more convenient.
Transition assistance programs offer a wide range of services to help with issues related to leaving the military. Program staff members provide many of the services and coordinate with separate military, governmental and private-sector organizations for others. Transition assistance services include:
- Preseparation counseling - The transition process begins with preseparation counseling, a mandatory overview of services and benefits. Counseling must take place at least 90 days before separation, but you will benefit greatly by starting much earlier. You may schedule preseparation counseling 12 months prior to separation or 24 months prior to retirement. You will be required to complete a Preseparation Counseling Checklist (DD form 2648) to help identify your transition needs and guide you through the process. The checklist is also a good starting point for developing an Individual Transition Plan, which will become your personal action plan for transition success. At preseparation counseling, you will begin to identify your career-change goals, identify resources you'll need to transition to civilian life and learn about the various transition services, entitlements and benefits.
- Transition Assistance Program employment workshops and benefits briefings - The Department of Defense, in partnership with the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs, provides a series of workshops and briefings to equip you with the information and tools you'll need to manage the transition to civilian life. If space is available, your spouse may also attend. These workshops and briefings, offered on major military installations worldwide, may include:
- Department of Labor Employment workshops - These two-and-a-half day classes focus on skills and tools to help transitioning service members move successfully into the civilian workforce. Topics covered include employment and training opportunities, the labor market, resume writing, job-search strategies and more.
- Department of Veterans Affairs benefits briefing - This four-hour session covers the GI Bill, health care, VA counseling, the VA home loan program and other VA services and benefits.
- Disabled Transition Assistance Program - The Disabled Transition Assistance Program is a separate VA briefing (normally lasting two hours) for transitioning service members with disabilities. It covers vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits for these veterans.
- Installation briefings - After completing the employment workshops and benefits briefings, you will be able to continue learning about particular transition issues through classes and seminars offered by installation Transition Assistance Program offices. Topics covered include dressing for success, goal setting, change management and evaluating and negotiating job offers.
- Verification of Military Experience and Training - The service branches are required by law to verify all of the military experience and training of transitioning service members. Your VMET (DD Form 2586) summarizes this information, shows recommended college-credit information and suggests civilian-equivalent job titles. You can use the VMET to assess your knowledge, experience and skills that translate to civilian jobs and use it as a reference as you develop your resume. You can download your VMET at the Defense Manpower Data Center VMET website
- Individual assistance and referral - Transition assistance does not end with workshops. You and your spouse may continue to receive services up to 180 days after separation or retirement. Transition assistance staff members can provide:
- One-on-one support - Installation offices can critique your resume, help assess your skills and aptitudes and offer career coaching and advice for specific career issues.
- Resources - Resources include job-search databases, publications and job fairs.
- Needs assessment - Installation offices can help identify needs for continuing education; testing, licensure or certification for civilian occupations; financial planning; and relocation assistance.
- Referrals - Installation offices can refer you to other organizations such as an education center, library, state employment office or association for a specific trade.
- Online transition assistance - The Internet provides many useful tools for transitioning service members including websites that allow you to search for jobs, post your resume, analyze your skills and compare salaries and benefits of different occupations and industries.