It’s so hard for me to believe that it’s been more than a year since Dane left active duty military service. He’s still in the reserves (and recently got promoted – YAY DANE!), but it’s a much different arena than active duty. I didn’t catalog it a ton here on my blog, because honestly I was like – who really even cares about that? BUT! In the 18 months since he transitioned, I’ve gotten at least 5 people who have said “Hey, my spouse is leaving active duty – how did you _____ ?” I’ll be honest – it’s a stressful time and one that is filled with a little bit of uncertainty. I wanted to help anyone who might be reading whose spouse is getting out or is thinking of getting out. I am, in no way, an expert and this is, of course, just our experience, but I do hope it’s helpful for anyone who is curious or is seeking guidance 🙂
FAQ About Transitioning Out Of The Military
Before I dive into some frequently asked questions, I’ll give you a little background on the timeline of how things went. Dane decided (after weighing a million different pros/cons) to leave active duty military service in June of 2015. He submitted his paperwork (often referred to as dropping his packet) in July of 2015 and knew that his official end date of active duty would be July 2016. From the day he was given his official end date of active duty, he busted his butt applying to jobs and networking. He was frugal with his leave time, because he wanted to use it all at the end so that he would essentially stop working, but continue getting paid by the Army, but have free days to tie up job searching/moving/etc. The way it panned out, his last day of actually having to go into work was May 6, 2016 and his last active duty paycheck was July 30, 2016. He started his job as a government employee on September 1, 2016.
Okay, so now that I’ve shared the timeline of it all, let’s dive into some of the questions that we have gotten about our experience.
1. Did you do anything different from a financial perspective to prepare before Dane left active duty?
Absolutely and this is the first topic I talk about when someone asks me about Dane leaving active duty. If there’s one thing that you can count on with the military, it’s a steady paycheck every two weeks. When Dane first decided to separate, he had no idea what kind of pay he would make in his civilian job, how frequently he would be paid, if there would be a gap in employment, etc. We budget pretty concisely to begin with, but we wanted to broaden our net, so to speak, in terms of saving, so that we could account for nearly any scenario that might pop up. We have always lived primarily off his salary and anything I make goes directly into savings or funds vacation, which gave us a great base, but our goal was to save enough money to be able to sustain ourselves for up to 10 months if we had to without sacrificing other accounts. At the time, we lived on base, so we weren’t able to pocket any additional BAH to save each month. In order to pad our savings account, we lived off one paycheck per month for the entire year and put the second check into savings along with all of my earnings. We cut out frivolous meals out, random coffee stops, movie dates, buying unnecessary new clothes and meal planned the heck out of our food so we didn’t overspend at the grocery store. We also lived by the mantra “It’s only a good deal if you need it.” At the end of the month if we had anything left over, that all went into savings as well. By the time Dane was getting his last active duty paycheck, we had nearly doubled our savings account. Thankfully, there was only about 5 weeks between his last paycheck and the start of his new job. You can read more about our normal monthly budgeting here.
2. Did Dane use a headhunter or job placement company (Cameron Brooks, Bradley Morris, etc.)?
The short answer is yes and no. Dane had heard from several different people that working with a military job placement company was a surefire way to line up a job, but we also had friends who had used them, wound up hating the job they were placed in and ended up jobless less than a year after leaving the military – essentially in the same position they were a year prior…scrambling. Dane’s mindset for his transition was that he wanted to keep every door open and that meant talking to some of these job placement companies. He talked with Cameron Brooks and Lucas Group and while the representatives were friendly and helpful, Dane realized rather quickly that wasn’t a good avenue for him to take and the jobs they were placing prospective employees in weren’t anything he was interested in pursing. To be clear – just because it wasn’t a good fit for him does not mean they are bad companies to work through!
3. What about the reserves? How did Dane decide to do that?
Dane knew he was interested in the Army Reserves prior to his decision to separate. This was for two reasons – 1. He didn’t want to throw away 10 years of active duty service and 2. He still felt very strongly about serving his country. There are some benefits to the reserves and I think it might differ family to family, but for us it is a little bit of extra money each month, our dental is covered (more on why we cannot use Tricare for health coverage in question #4) and Dane can still advance in his military career. He was promoted to major and took a Battalion XO position this past fall.
4. What did you do about healthcare?
This is a big one and one that we talked in depth about before Dane ever dropped his packet to separate. Healthcare is EXPENSIVE and it’s truly one of the biggest perks that military members and families receive, regardless of how you feel about Tricare. We knew that some of the specialty doctors we both see would mean needing more than a basic healthcare plan through a new provider and it was definitely a factor in deciding what was best for us. We pay out of pocket now (we cannot use Tricare through the reserves since Dane is government employee, which isn’t something we knew prior), but it’s manageable. That said – it’s still a great deal more than we used to pay as Tricare standard members, so it’s definitely an expense to account for.
**One point of reference that I want to add in here regarding healthcare is to make sure that everyone in your family obtains copies of their medical records prior to your spouse receiving their DD-214. I wrongly assumed that since Dane would still be in the reserves I’d be able to access my records. WRONG. Of course I didn’t realize this until they had been destroyed at Schofield Barracks. I’m in the process of working with U.S. Army Medical Command to obtain partial records that were on file, but I still haven’t received anything, so I can’t stress enough – get a copy of your records/vaccinations/prescription lists/etc. and learn from my mistake! And maybe like – Kait, you’re a moron. But I’ll be honest – with about 20975 other things happening all at once, this wasn’t a top priority like it should have been.
5. Was there anything about the military that you missed or took for granted?
I reverted to Dane on this one, because I’m not sure I could adequately answer it. From my perspective – I think figuring out healthcare as a civilian was a bit challenging and definitely something that made us go “Wow, Tricare was really easy and cheap!”
But as far as missing or taking for granted, Dane says: “I definitely took for granted the sense of immediate camaraderie that happens in the military and the “built in” group of friends that happens almost instantly when you move from place to place. I have it again now that I’ve been at my job for over a year, but initially I felt a little bit like a fish out of water. I don’t miss active duty from a day-to-day standpoint. When I leave work, it stays there.”
6. How did Dane decide what type of job to pursue?
This is a good one! When Dane first decided to leave active duty service, he wanted to keep every door open and explore all of his options. He was an engineer in the Army, so he was initially drawn to that. He also has his master’s in construction management, as well as certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Six Sigma, so he was leaning heavily toward a job in project management. To help narrow it down, he also made a list of his skill sets and things that made him stand out to help with cover letters, reconstructing his resume, etc.
Dane says: “In the back of my mind, I knew I would be most successful with a GS job working for the military, but as a civilian. I was already familiar with many of the acronyms and policies that help keep things running, so it felt like a good fit for someone like me transitioning as opposed to hopping right into something that was brand new. I also knew that from a benefits and job security standpoint, I would feel confident in taking a job with the government. After a year and half, I can say it was the best decision for me.”
7. What were the hardest financial adjustments?
I would say that before Dane had his job offer, we were both worried about how our finances would look if we just had to live off my income, which is why our plan from question #1 was so important. We wanted to continue to live the same life we had grown accustomed to while he was on active duty, so saving and budgeting became LIFE! I can say that since his transition, we continue to live off just his salary, bank mine and budget like animals to do the things we love, like travel, eat out, etc. From my perspective, the budgeting line that has increased is healthcare and housing, since he isn’t given BAH anymore.
Dane says: “I don’t think that we ran into any financial adjustments that stick out in my mind, but I do know that had we not budgeted or prepared for over a year, I think I would feel differently. The transitioning soldier class that is offered for free during ETS counseling was really beneficial for me. There is a lot of stuff they go over that seems like common sense, but I forced myself to go to each one and I took something valuable away from every session.”
8. How can family members be supportive of transitioning military members?
Dane says: “First – please stop asking if we got a job yet. Don’t worry – when we get that first offer or the one we plan on taking, we will tell you. It was kind of hard for me to ask for help, but at the same time – it was harder having everyone saying “if you need anything, let me know.” If you work as a recruiter or in your company’s HR department – let your transitioning military member know and be specific about the field or if you’re currently seeking transitioning veterans. If you live locally, ask if they want to go out for dinner or to a movie – just spending time doing things with Kait outside of searching for a job was a great way to clear my mind.”
Whew – I feel like this post went on and on, but I wanted to put the resource out there for anyone who might be in a similar situation. When Dane was transitioning, I tried to find + read as much as I could online, so every little bit helped along the way. Again – I’m in no way an expert and everyone needs to do what is right for their family, but I’m happy to help in any way I can. Did I miss something you really wanted to know? Feel free to drop it below!