Military Transition Challenges
I have served in the United States Army for almost six years. When I get out officially at the end of the year I’ll be heading back home to Texas. When I left six years ago I was 20 years old, woefully single and closeted, my only work experience at grocery stores cash registers. I’ll drive back to Texas with a wife, infant son, and more life and work experience than I could have ever imagined.
While I am incredibly excited about this new chapter in my life, I am also terrified. I’ve completely devoted myself to this military lifestyle for the last six years and now I’m just abandoning it seemingly overnight. I’m scared that I’m not making the right decision for myself, for my career, for my family. And I am not alone. The Department of Veterans Affairs even has a cheat sheet of sorts that details common challenges that veterans face when transitioning to civilian life.
The transition to civilian life is hard for any veteran. Day to day life on active duty can be stressful, but long deployments in combat zones can be brutal on anyone’s mental health. I consider myself lucky that I only had to serve for 9 months overseas. I had supervisors that served 18 or 24 month deployments in Iraq. The mental toll it must take on someone to be away from real life for two years must be astonishing. And now the VA can see it. Female veterans specifically are at a higher risk for homelessness and suicide than female civilians. Male veterans are also at a higher risk of suicide and depression than male civilians.
The statistics are daunting. Everyone in the military knows somebody or knows of somebody who was in the military and committed suicide. It is almost scary to think how normal and mundane our quarterly suicide prevention training has become. Sound mental health is a very real concern for veterans and something that I don’t think is stressed enough. The feeling of otherness that pervades a veteran’s transition from military to civilian can be a tough hill to climb. The biggest cheerleader in a veteran’s corner during transition is family or similar support system. A spouse or close friend can give a sense of normalcy to a very all-consuming change in life.
While family can be a good thing in transition, it can also be a negative. Your spouse or child or mother or whoever may not agree with your decision to get out of the military. Maybe they like the area you live in now and want to stay there, or they’re comfortable with the money that you’re bringing, or they’re in school and don’t want to cut the school year short if you end up moving. Those are valid points to bring up and discussions should be had about the best course of action. However, it is ultimately your career. You might be the only one in your family getting up early in the morning to do physical fitness training and you’re the only one in the family coming home after a long shift and slipping off your boots.
Finances will also be a burden if you don’t plan well. The base pay for a military service member is not a lot of money. However, there are other factors at play concerning a service member’s take home pay. In addition to base pay there is usually basic allowance for subsistence and basic allowance for housing. Depending on where you are in the country that could make a huge difference in take home pay. When you go out in the real world, you’re most likely not going to get a job that offers you money for food and money for your rent. You’ll have to get savvy at calculating what type of salary you need to make in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for you and your family.
I hope that you are preparing and educating yourself for your transition out of the military. I know that I regret not starting sooner, but my time is ending whether I like it or not.
Tell me about your experience down below and how you really feel about getting out of the military.
References for Information
Department of Veteran Affairs. (n.d.). Common Challenges During Re-Adjustment. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/communityproviders/docs/readjustment.pdf
Koblinsky, S. A., Schroeder, A. L., & Leslie, L. A. (2016, June 22). “Give us respect, support and understanding”: Women veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan recommend strategies for improving their mental health care. Social Work in Mental Health, 1–22. doi:10.1080/15332985.2016.1186134
Pease, J. L., Billera, M., & Gerard, G. (2015, May 21). Military Culture and the Transition to Civilian Life: Suicide Risk and Other Considerations. Social Work, 61(1), 83–86. doi:10.1093/sw/swv050
Rose, S. (2016, August 27). Who are the 22 veterans? Retrieved September 22, 2016, from https://steveroseblog.com/2016/08/27/who-are-the-22-veterans/
References for Media
Podcast from Spirituality Mind Body Institute, episode Moral Injury and Suicide in Veterans. https://soundcloud.com/smbi-1/moral-injury-and-suicide-in-veterans
Other photo was created by the author.