Over the years, the military has developed Transition Assistance Programs in order to help service members make the change from active duty to civilian life. Everyone goes through the program eventually, learning about benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, how to write a resume (and how to make it understandable to civilians), and even how to dress in something other than a uniform.
It just looks out of place sometimes. (U.S. Army photo)
Yet, despite the best efforts of instructors and facilitators, there are some things the classes don't cover — including simply how to actually get out. Here are a few lessons about the separation process.
5. Your DD-214 is worth getting right.
Everyone's heard of the DD form 214. It represents the accomplishments of your time in the military. For the rest of your life, it's how you'll prove you're a veteran. So, as excited as you might be for a new chapter in life, you'll want to devote time and effort to getting it right.
You might have heard of this document. It has lots of fans.
You may not think the awards section, for example, matters much. However, listing the Afghanistan or Iraq Campaign Medals establish that you're a combat veteran, which makes a difference for certain VA benefits and can get you hiring preference for certain federal jobs. The good news is, even if not all of your past units were meticulous in documenting awards, it's easy to correct. Producing a citation is the easiest way to have an award added. In the case of unit or campaign awards, any official document that proves you were part of a given unit for a certain deployment can prove you've earned it.
If the first working copy of your DD-214 isn't accurate, don't delay in asking your separations/retirement clerk how to fix it.
4. Copy your medical records!
Another important document is your medical record, so be sure to get a copy early. These days, some medical facilities will provide a digital copy on CD. Before you visit your local VA, be sure to ask whether they'll work with that format. Either way, you'll want to go through every page (paper or electronic) yourself before you take it to anyone else. You should flag anything that isn't a physical or otherwise normal visit.
Be sure the copy you're given is complete. Many members have been in since before the military switched to electronic records; when you ask for a copy of your record, you're supposed to get both what's in the electronic record and scans from your paper record. Be meticulous; if things are missing, go back to the records office and ask. Like your 214, your medical record is worth spending the time necessary to get right.
This is really important for a number of reasons.
Once you've reviewed your complete copy, contact a veteran's service organization. They have experts in the VA claims process who will go through your record with you and guide you through the next steps. You don't even need to be a member of the organization.
3. Learn about the SBP.
Most TAP classes include a discussion about financial planning, and your transition office may ask you to show a budget. However, there isn't always a discussion of the Survivor's Benefit Plan, or SBP. This is an insurance plan retirees can pay into that will provide a beneficiary (usually spouse) an annuity to make up for lost retirement income once the retiree dies. And, while we don't give financial advice, it's not necessarily right for everyone. It's worth taking a look at your personal insurance and investment situation to decide if it's something you want.
2. You get house-hunting and job-hunting perks.
If you're retiring or being involuntarily separated under honorable conditions, you get permissive temporary duty (free time off) to find a home and a job. Just how much time you get (10, 20, or 30 days) depends on if you're being involuntarily separated or retired and whether you're in the continental U.S. or not. That's in addition to your terminal leave.
Getting a home is totally doable. There are hundreds of USAA commercials about this.
1. What is the Skillbridge Internship?
Not every TAP class mentions this program, so you may want to ask about it. This program allows service members to participate in civilian job training, including internships and apprenticeships, up to six months before separating. That means you can be learning your new job while still being paid by the military!