What should I know about transitioning from service?
Returning to civilian life presents new opportunities — and challenges — for Veterans. Many Veterans look forward to life after the military because they can spend more time with family and friends and no longer have to worry about military structure or deployment. At the same time, transitioning out of the military may raise a lot of questions. You may wonder what you are going to do with this new phase of your life, or whether you will be able to find a job. You may think about going back to school, but not know where to start. Or you may miss the order and discipline of military life (compared with civilian life) and wonder if you will be able to adjust.
If you are a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you may be worried about transitioning from military service back into your civilian workplace. Will you be able to pick up where you left off? Will your colleagues understand what you’ve been through and welcome you back?
Whether you served during a war or in peacetime, your experiences in the service — both positive and negative — have made you a different person than you were before you entered, and may have changed the way you look at things and deal with people. Stressful or traumatic situations may have resulted in habits or ways of coping that can be misunderstood or problematic in civilian life.
“I definitely have a lot more freedom in civilian life, but at the same time I feel some instability. Without the structure, order, and camaraderie I had with my unit, I felt exposed. It was a bumpy road back, but the Vet Center has really helped me adjust.”
As you adjust to your transition from the military, you may:
- Feel uncomfortable with the lack of structure and goals compared with military life
- Miss the adrenaline rush of physical and life-challenging situations
- Worry about your finances
- Push yourself to be perfect in work and other areas of your life
- Become annoyed with others who seem more easy-going or less detail-oriented than you
- Feel isolated and alone, as if no one understands you
What should I keep an eye out for after transitioning from service?
Most Veterans go through some period of adjustment while transitioning from service and military life, but ultimately find their new roles fulfilling. For some people, the transition is harder or lasts a long time, which makes it difficult to enjoy life or to be successful in the civilian world. Some Veterans experience the following:
- Frequently feeling on edge or tense
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling angry or irritable
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling down for weeks or months
Some of the challenges that come with transitioning from the military can be difficult or stressful and can put a strain on your relationships. You might find it hard to enjoy the things you usually like doing. You may be having a tough time dealing with the deaths of friends with whom you served. Chronic pain or other medical conditions may pose additional challenges.
What can I do about issues related to transitioning from service?
Going from something familiar, like military life, to something new and different can be challenging, but there are things you can do to help you be successful. Remember to:
- Reach out to other Veterans or Veterans’ groups for social support.
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy meals.
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.
- Recognize that others may not always agree with you or understand your military service; agree to disagree.
- Discuss and make plans for the transition with your spouse, children, and other family members; recognize that, in some respects, transitioning from life in the military is a family affair.
- Be prepared for insensitive questions or topics of conversation; practice how to respond ahead of time.
- Respectfully decline to talk about things that make you uncomfortable.
- Have a plan of action for your adjustment that includes a list of goals for your transition, your future, and your personal life.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep as often as possible.
- Avoid unhealthy “quick fixes” that you think may help you cope, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or energy stimulants, or smoking cigarettes.
In addition, for National Guard members and Reservists, there are a few things you can do to help ease the transition back into your job:
- Contact your supervisor before you return to work and discuss your responsibilities, changes in personnel, and new policies or projects.
- Anticipate changes and be patient.
- Remember that your co-workers may have had to take on some of your responsibilities while you were away; avoid taking charge right away.
- Talk to other National Guard members or Reservists to learn how they handled their return to work.
- Make sure you understand your health coverage and get any benefits reinstated promptly.
Talking to your family and friends about your experiences can be helpful as you deal with your transition. They will get a better understanding of what you are going through and may be able to provide you with support.
Take the next step: Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues affecting their lives. If transitioning from service is interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, responsibilities, work, or ability to study, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does.
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
- A spiritual or religious adviser
Explore these resources for helping Veterans address transition-related issues.
Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to transitioning to civilian life, such as feeling on edge, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.
VA GI Bill® Website
This website is the home for all educational benefits provided by VA. It offers tools and resources to help Veterans who are pursuing college degrees, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or nondegree programs.
Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges
Moving Forward is a free online educational and life-coaching program that teaches problem-solving skills to help you better handle life’s challenges. While it’s designed to be especially helpful for Veterans, Service members, and their families, Moving Forward teaches skills that can be useful to anyone with stressful problems.
Discover resources especially for Veterans and Service members related to job performance, making the transition to civilian life, and recognizing other issues you may be dealing with.
Featuring real stories of Service members who have reached out for support, this campaign was launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to promote the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery, and supporting reintegration of returning Service members, Veterans, and their families.
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Some problems that arise after you transition might be signs of health-related conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.