The American economy is still struggling to emerge from a yearslong recession, and the U.S. military faces massive cuts to budgets and force levels in the next few years.
In the middle of that double squeeze, the question every service member considers at some point — stay in uniform or hang it up? — has become tougher to answer.
The challenges start with the separation itself. Leaving behind a comfortable, familiar and relatively stable environment, leaving friends you may have fought alongside in combat, figuring out where to live and what to do with your life, dealing with civilians who have no clue what the military is all about or what you’ve experienced in uniform … these are just a few issues every veteran faces upon separation.
And it only gets more challenging from there.
Without question, post-service employment is the top issue facing today’s transitioning veterans. It’s an unfortunate fact that many military skills don’t line up neatly with civilian job descriptions and requirements.
Even if you do find a job that seems to fit your skills, the pay may not match your experience.
And with all the media attention on post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues among returning combat veterans, some companies are leery of hiring vets.
The main alternative to immediately wading into the civilian job market is to pursue higher education. But figuring that out is no walk in the park, either: What type of school best fits your needs? What kind of program do you want to pursue? How do you make the new GI Bill work for you? What other types of assistance are available?
If you’re a disabled veteran, you face another challenge: dealing with an often-dysfunctional Veterans Affairs Department bureaucracy that has all kinds of problems delivering health care and processing benefits claims.
It’s not as if the government isn’t trying to help. In recent years, a lot of effort has been put into expanding existing assistance programs for transitioning veterans and creating new ones.
For example, the linchpin Transition Assistance Program, a joint effort between VA, the Pentagon and Labor Department, has long been criticized by veterans for its skimpy and ineffective approach.
The program is now getting overhauled to make it more topical, relevant and timely. The jury is still out on this one, but there’s reason to be hopeful.
In charting your post-service course, knowledge truly is power — both knowing yourself and your life goals and knowing how to take advantage of the veterans benefits and other assistance out there at the federal, state and nonprofit levels to help you reach those goals.
Helping you navigate these challenging waters is the mission of this new Military Times column, Tactical Veteran. The column will strive to give you the information you need to make fully informed decisions as you make the leap to civilian life.
We can always learn from each other, too — so feel free to send in your questions, comments and suggestions.
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