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Are You Financially Ready to Leave the Military?

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It’s a prosaic cliché: Haggard, unshaven, sporting military fatigues, a homeless “veteran” clutches a cardboard sign along a highway off ramp. He’s disturbed, angry, maybe even a bit intoxicated, but he’s willing to work. Speculation regarding his military service undoubtedly adds to his dejected mystique.

Although this individual could very well be a veteran of some far-flung battlefield, chances are, he’s not. Nevertheless, the idea of a homeless veteran left to the wayside, forgotten by society, lost and unable to adjust to the civilian world, is an authentic phenomenon. So much so, many active duty service members muse their separation anxiously. Things like food, shelter and even that first and 15th direct deposit, tend to be taken for granted while in abundance. Once they’re wrenched away from us, for whatever reason, it can come off like a stiff punch to the gut.

Yet as members of the United Stated Armed Forces, a certain resolve and hardiness inherent to war-fighters can enable an individual to succeed once they’ve transitioned to the civilian world. In preparation for departure, several key elements must be addressed.

Preparation

For whatever reason you are leaving the military —  be it voluntary, retirement or due to medical reasons. Anticipate your departure. Know your separation date and start preparing in advance. Keep family members, friends, possible employers and whomever else you deem appropriate, in the loop.

Also, know where you’re going. Once you are out, you’re out. Base privileges generally expire; you surrender room keys and active duty identification. It’s a very smart idea to have civilian I.D. readily available, along with prearranged accommodations.

Transitional Assistance Program (TAP)

The Transitional Assistance Program is just that — a curriculum that helps service members’ changeover to the civilian world.  According to the Veterans Administration, TAP seeks “to ease the transition to civilian life through employment and job training assistance.”

Generally recommended for personnel with a year or less of active duty remaining on their contract, TAP holds seminars, workshops and one-on-one counseling, addressing concerns of officers and enlisted alike. Contact your command before attending the program — seats are limited and vary from location to location.

Military Service Records

It would behoove a soon-to-be civilian to gather all records prior to separation. Military service records essentially document where, when and who you served with. Be it several combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, Edwards Air Force Base or Joint Base Pearl Harbor, these detailed reports provide proof of service.

Along with general records, be cognizant of school certificates gleaned from military training — they may come in handy in the civilian sector. Akin to schooling, any security clearances and miscellaneous recommendations from commanding officers and/or supervisors, should be collected prior to exiting the main gate. As a member of the Inactive Ready Reserves (a provision of most enlistments) your access to military resources is severely limited.

Shortly after separation, an inactive ready reservist will receive a DD-214 — probably the most important of all military records. It serves as the official release or discharge from active duty.

Without condemning the Veterans Administration, there have been many instances where an individual’s service records have been lost or destroyed. To assure this doesn’t happen to you, make copies —  many, many copies. Distribute them to trusted family members, perhaps even investing in a safety deposit box. Another interesting option in preserving your DD-214 involves scanning them digitally – but remember, possessing an official hard copy is priceless. To access lost or damages service records, visit http://www.vetrecs.archives.gov/.

Medical Records

A must have – literally a packet detailing ever sprain, cold, bullet wound, or ingrown toenail a service member may have incurred while enlisted/commissioned. Although the above-mentioned injuries may have resolved themselves, there’s always a chance of re-injury. Trivial medical matters soon become complicated as the body ages. Aside from the physical pain associated with your ailments, medical bills in the civilian world can be quite costly. Rather than suffocate from unforeseen debt, due to health concerns, register with the Veterans Administration as soon as possible. Their Health Service Department is a windfall for disabled veterans. In order to qualify for benefits, one must have verification via medical records. Once established, a subsequent percentage rating follows, as does monetary compensation. Again, it’s imperative to make copies of said records due to the real possibility they may be lost or damaged.

Although you may have served the country honorably, documentation is crucial. When transitioning from Active Duty G.I. Joe to John Q. Public civilian, assure you’ve prepared ahead of time in order to transition smoothly.