At a time when employment is a moving target and life seems to be more and more expensive, the military can provide the perfect foundation and bridge to succeed in the civilian sector. But you have to take advantage of resources and be willing to go the extra mile when you’re transitioning out of the military.

Whether someone is getting out after four or 24 years, they need to have a plan. The world is extremely competitive. Just because you served in the military doesn’t mean you will automatically land your dream job or get some insane salary that you read about online. People may be quick to thank you for your service, but they will scrutinize you hard when it comes to deciding if you’re the right person for the job.

Transitioning Out of the Military With Education

The first leg-up the military offers is free education. College is not a requirement for success; there are many veterans that are crushing life, who never spent one day taking a college course. With that said, my argument is, why not make the effort and get a degree? It will only make you more valuable and help with your transition process. You can earn a degree for free while on active duty, by taking advantage of the Tuition Assistance Program. With the transition to online learning, with just a laptop, you can earn your college degree anywhere in the world. The best part is that Tuition Assistance doesn’t affect your GI Bill.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill may be the greatest benefit a military member is eligible for. It’s literally a scholarship on steroids. The GI Bill will cover a full Bachelor’s and some of a Master’s if you’re efficient with your credit hours and don’t waste time going to school for extra semesters. The government provides you a housing allowance, which means you are getting paid to go to school. Of course, not everyone wants to go to school full-time at a campus, which is understandable. The GI Bill will cover an online degree as well, providing a reduced, but still respectable, monthly housing allowance. This is perfect for veterans that are ready to get to work and make an income, but still want to further their education.

With so many people up to their eyeballs in student debt, it’s a no-brainer to take advantage of the military’s education programs.

Transitioning Vs. Lost in Translation

Sailors Visit the VA
Sailors visit the Seattle VA Medical Center during Seattle’s 68th annual Seafair Fleet Week. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob G. Sisco/U.S. Navy)

Not all military jobs translate clearly into civilian occupations, and that’s ok. Employers understand what military members can bring to the table. There are many special operators that have landed great jobs, that had nothing to do with what they did while they served. The important part is to project your experiences, accomplishments, and capabilities onto your resume, in a way that reflects your value and potential to an employer. This is another area where it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a degree.

Resume writing can be a bear for a lot of servicemembers transitioning out of the military. For one, we’re not used to touting our experience or skill sets, and sitting down to list your accomplishment can smack of conceit. But it’s important to remember that your employer won’t have the benefit of your personnel file or DD-214.

At the same time, you want to make sure you aren’t loading up your resume with jargon, acronyms, and milspeak. If you’re stuck or not sure if your resume is up to snuff, use an online resource like Military One Source (there are scads), or better yet, get with a buddy or a colleague who’s been in the civilian world for a while. A balanced, clearly-written resume will help a new employer appreciate your strengths and skillsets.

Leverage Your VA Entitlements

Another benefit that transitioning servicemembers receive is five years of VA healthcare coverage after their honorable discharge. This benefit undoubtedly bridges the gap for those that go to college or are trying to find their way into a new industry. Not being compelled to find a job with healthcare benefits, allows veterans the freedom to expand their horizons and search for a job that fits them best.

A VA home loan is just another great benefit of military service. With a VA home loan, you can purchase a house with no money down. Closing costs are almost always covered by the seller, saving a military home-buyer even more money. The trick is to work with a good realtor, who is familiar with VA home loans. Chances are they work with a very capable mortgage company that can easily walk you through the paperwork and make sure you’re taken care of.

On a national level, I have heard good things about USAA VA home loans. If you’re in the Virginia area, consider giving Old Virginia Mortgage a call.

Transitioning out of the military does not have to be a time of worry and concern. With good planning and judgment, a servicemember has the potential to thrive in the civilian world just as they did while serving.

This article was originally published in December 2020. It has been edited for republication.