If you’ve just recently transitioned from the military back into civilian life, or are preparing to do so in the weeks ahead, it’s smart to have a plan that helps you to reacclimate. Because no matter if you’ve been serving for a few months or a couple of decades, the return to civilian life is often more difficult than most anticipate.
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Common Challenges Veterans Face
Civilians aren’t always aware of all the challenges that military veterans face when returning to “normal” society. However, as those who’ve done it before know, there can be a number of speed bumps along the way. This includes:
- Reconnecting with family and friends. As much as your friends and family love you, their lives continued on in your absence. This doesn’t mean they didn’t miss you – just that they had to create new routines and keep living their lives. Now you enter back into the equation. Reconnecting will be easy in some relationships and much harder in others.
- Entering the workforce. Going from a military job to a civilian job can be very different. In some ways, the changes will be welcome. In other ways, you’ll feel like you’re a total outsider. Reconciling these differences may prove difficult.
- Finding structure. No matter how much structure you try to create in your civilian life, it’ll pale in comparison to the structure you had while serving. You’ll have to look for ways to keep yourself grounded.
- Fitting in. On a lighter note, you’ll feel slightly out of place. Most people won’t understand your ironic military-style t-shirts that read “AR/15: Back in Black” or “Keep Calm and Double Tap.” You may find this funny or frustrating. It just depends on your outlook!
Every veteran is different, but you’ll most likely face one or more of these challenges. Take the transition seriously and you’ll acclimate much better.
Tips for a Smoother Transition
When adjusting back into civilian life, the following tips will prove helpful:
1. Find a Community of Veterans
The first tip is to find a support group of veterans in your area that can help you acclimate and feel normal. It doesn’t have to be a formal support group in the sense that you meet in the basement of a church and share your feelings. It could be a group of people you grab a beer with every Friday night. The point is that you need people in your life who have been where you are or are experiencing a similar season of life.
2. Leverage Available Resources
There are a number of resources available for military veterans as they reenter civilian life. Some of these resources are available through the government – like the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) that’s offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Other programs are offered through private organizations and nonprofits.
Using these resources is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s one of the smartest things you can do. These groups and programs exist to give you an advantage. Why not use them?
3. Consider Family Therapy
Whether you feel like things are fine or you’re worried about what will happen when you enter back into civilian life, it’s helpful to take a few family therapy sessions with a counselor who specializes in working with veterans. These counseling sessions will focus on topics like:
- Creating a supportive environment for the veteran
- Making family members aware of potential mental health disorders
- Recognizing substance abuse signs and symptoms
The ultimate goal is to create a safe place for guided dialogue that may not always be discussed in normal household conversations.
4. Think in Terms of Transferable Skills
Whether you realize it or not, your military experience has supplied you with a lot of transferable skills that can be used to secure new job opportunities in another field.
Consider your accomplishments and experiences and then dig a layer deeper and figure out what skills you learned in the process. Next, look for jobs that require these skills.
For example, maybe you found a way to save the Air Force $750,000 per year by identifying a new piece of equipment that made a process more efficient. You could be a good fit for a financial controller position.
Putting it All Together
Your story is unique, and your experience will not be the same as the next veteran. But if you’re prepared for the challenges, you can implement proactive strategies (like the ones highlighted above) that set you up for long-term success. Good luck!