According to the Department of Defense, 230,000 to 245,000 service members will exit the U.S. military branches in 2019. Some will have planned to exit, while others will do so due to circumstances that don’t align with their wishes. Regardless of the reasons they separate, these veterans will face many challenges.
In honor of Veterans Day, those who have served, and who are building their lives outside of the military, Promoting Awareness and Wellness in Students (PAWS) spoke with James Bond, an Army veteran, military community advocate, and student advocate.
Bond, an eight-year Army veteran, currently serves on the board of the Veteran Career Transition Assistance Program (VetCTAP), a San Diego-based non-profit that aids transitioning veterans who are entering the civilian workforce. Bond also has served on the governing boards of the San Diego Veterans Coalition and Veterans Association of North County in San Diego. He has opened Veteran Centers at National University and University of California San Diego, as well as pioneered services for veteran students here at Ashford University.
Recognizing the impact these organizations have had on him, as well as the transitioning service members he has had the opportunity to support, Bond offers five tips on how service members can successfully transition to life outside of the military.
Invest in your primary relationship
Depending on the branch of service and the amount of time served, veterans tend to see relationships as transitory, and there isn’t much emphasis on the skills it takes to maintain relationships over long periods of time. Despite this truth, Bond notes that lifelong friends are formed during their service because they grow to depend on each other while facing challenges they rarely (if ever) would in the civilian world. Investing in your primary relationship, whether that be a partner, parent, child, or another relationship, will help you to hone the skills that you will need to rely on for your career, home life, and over all well-being outside of the military .
Engage in an activity with a mixed group of individuals
When you leave the military, it is very easy to focus on the differences between you and your new peers. By engaging in an activity such as expressions of art, sports, or a hobby with a mixed group of individuals that includes veterans and nonveterans, you can begin working on your cultural transition somewhere outside of your workplace. Bond notes that this step is extremely important for a successful transition, particularly for those who are not entering fields heavily populated by veterans.
Reassess your talents and skills
Often, what service members are rewarded for in the military becomes their focus. The result? Those innate talents can take a back seat if they are not a direct fit with service-related roles. When talents are reassessed, it can change goals and restore a desire for a better future. “Your transition is a chance for a new direction if you are willing to reconnect and build on your natural talents,” Bond says.
Upon leaving the military, many veterans express anxiety surrounding the sheer amount of decisions they have to make: what career to pursue, where to live, whether to pursue higher education, and if so what type of institution to choose, among others. Similarly, there are a lot of processes for setting goals, and it helps to determine the best approach.
“When I work with veterans, we do a values assessment and use that to guide other discussions that we ultimately use to set goals moving forward,” explains Bond.
Address issues sooner rather than later
Research shows that, on average, it takes 13 years for veterans to seek help for service-related issues (House of Commons, 2013). Meanwhile, in the service community, most grants will only apply to veterans who were separated up to a year ago, or within the last five years. Rarely is money released to serve veterans when they are looking for assistance.
“How many DUIs could be avoided if, when we notice ourselves heavily self-medicating, we address it?” Bond asks. “How many divorces would be avoided if we realized we are reacting to the stress of transition rather than whatever issues we have with our partners?”
Following the previous four steps will alert us to such challenges. It is important for anyone who may be struggling to get ahead of an issue by addressing it when it begins.
To learn more about transitioning from military to civilian life and the resources available, watch this month’s video.
To our military community from all of us at Ashford University, thank you for your service. Happy Veterans Day.
Written by Ashford University staff
House of Commons – Corrected Evidence – HC 131-i. (2018). Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 19 October 2018, from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmwelaf/c131-i/c13101.htm
US Military Veterans’ Difficult Transitions Back to Civilian Life and the VA’s Response. (2017) Retrieved 26 September 2018, from https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Zogas_Veterans%27%20Transitions_CoW_2.1.17.pdf