The military to civilian transition can be quite overwhelming. Aside from the culture shock, you have the added stress of finding a job. So many veterans struggle with this part, resulting in increased depression and stress. There are many ways to survive the transition in regard to the financial burden as well as keeping the mind sharp.
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Paying bills and putting food on the table is probably the number one concern for most veterans after leaving the military. How do you do that when you haven’t found a job? There are many benefits you should be applying for. There are also lots of ways to save money and even bring in some side money to help during this time. The first place you should have checked in with upon getting out of the service is your County Veteran Service Office. They will be able to guide you on any available LOCAL resources and ways to survive the transition.
One of the first things you need to do on your first day as a civilian is to apply for Unemployment Benefits. I don’t want to hear the whining about not wanting to “ride the system” or anything like that. We know there are those who are more than willing to let the government pay all their bills, but that doesn’t mean you fall into that category. Unemployment benefits are meant for your exact situation and it’s not a permanent benefit. There are some restrictions for those that have been fully retired (not medically retired), but EVERYONE needs to apply. Just type in “unemployment benefits (your state)” in Google and fill out the online application.
Career One Stop has a lot of additional information, as well as links to your state’s unemployment page. You may receive a denial letter which states something to the effect of “you didn’t pay into the system.” Don’t fret. Since military pay isn’t connected to your state’s unemployment system, it takes them a little longer to get the info they need and you will get another letter outlining what your benefits are.
SNAP – When I worked for Texas Veterans Commission doing veteran employment, I worked with thousands of veterans. Nearly every one of them gave me a nasty smirk when I told them to apply for food stamps! I even had a few that were literally living in their cars because they got evicted from their apartments for not paying rent (because they couldn’t find a job) and would tell me “I don’t need welfare.” Listen up, Shipmate! If you think receiving temporary food stamps is worse than living in your car, you need to be slapped! SNAP benefits are meant for times like these. Receiving them doesn’t put you in the same category as the “welfare-riders.” Now, get over yourself and your pride and apply for benefits now! (When you apply for SNAP, you will also be screen to see what other benefits you may be eligible for such as Medicaid and TANF).
WIC – If you or your spouse are pregnant and/or have children under the age of five (5), apply for WIC NOW.
Free/Reduced Lunch for kids – If you have kids that are in school, apply for free/reduced meals.
Each state has different programs and grants that can help with either rental assistance and/or utilities. Your County Veteran Service Office should be able to direct you to what is available in your area. If you are in Texas, you can visit the Tex Vet Website for housing and other veteran resources in the state of Texas.
With the transition comes a significant drop in your income – sometimes a complete drop! There are many ways you can maximize the money you do have so it goes a lot farther. There are some really great savings apps and programs that give you cash back for online and in-store purchases. If you aren’t using EBATES and BEFRUGAL, you are literally throwing money away! Check out my other posts on these and other programs and savings apps:
Did you know your phone can bring you in some extra money? There are some really great apps you can download and earn points for all kinds of activities such as scanning receipts and walking into stores! They don’t bring in huge amounts, but when you are struggling to make end’s meat, every little bit helps! Check out my post How I Made $500 Playing on my Phone which lists all the apps and other programs I use!
Initially, I started this blog as a hobby for my thoughts. I quickly learned that blogging can actually bring in substantial income! Read more about why veterans should start a blog here: Veteran Employment – Make Money as a Military or Veteran Blogger.
Ways to Survive the Transition: Another downside to having no job is all the TIME you have to sit and feel sorry for yourself! This leads to increased depression, suicidal thoughts, and more. You can’t just sit home on your butt and mope about all the problems in your life. The military trained you to be a problem-solver and to DO! So how do you DO that?
You can’t just sit home. Volunteering in your community not only gets you out of your house but helps keep your skills sharp and your mind in a good place. It is also the best way to network! There are so many organizations that need volunteers with skills that veterans come with. It also helps to “civilianize” and gets you accustomed to being around other non-military people. Civilians are a different breed that we are! Ease into working with them by volunteering. When you finally do land a job, you’ll be quite used to their antics and it won’t get on your nerves as much (causing you to get fired or quit!).
Not ready for civilians just yet? Every town has veterans. Get involved with a veteran organization where you live such as a VFW or Veterans Coalition. Lot’s of newer Veteran Service Organizations have popped up such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. Team Rubicon is another AWESOME volunteer organization and is made up mostly of prior military and first responders.
Being around other veterans does help make the transition a bit easier because you will see that what you are dealing with is normal. Don’t try to do it alone – lean on your brothers and sisters to see how they’ve managed.
I have met so many veterans that actually got their current job as a result of connections made through volunteering. Don’t look at it as “volunteering” look at it as “nonpaid work experience.” Employers will look kindly upon you for staying busy between jobs and it gives you something to put on your resume instead of a time gap!
Ok, so I’ve given you some tips and resources. I’m going to end this post with some a piece of personal advice. Get out, get active. Stop sitting home whining about your struggles. I say this as someone who has BEEN THERE and got through it. I’ve struggled with employment and almost became homeless as a result. I’ve struggled with mental health and attempted suicide. I’VE BEEN THERE! The military taught us to figure things out and get sh*t done so why aren’t you doing that? Find other vets who’ve survived the transition and feed off their energy. You CAN get through it and come out like a BOSS!!
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