Adjusting to civilian life after the transition

12/03/2012  |  By Make The Connection

Returning to civilian life presents new opportunities as well as challenges for Veterans. Many Veterans look forward to life after the military, because they can spend more time with family and friends and no longer have to worry about military structure or being deployed. At the same time, transitioning to civilian life may lead to a lot of questions. You may wonder what you are going to do with this new phase of your life, or if you will be able to find a job. You may think about going back to school but not know where to start. Or, you may miss the order and discipline of military life compared to civilian life and wonder if you will be able to adjust.

If you are a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you may be worried about transitioning back into a civilian workplace. Will you return to the same position with the same responsibilities? Will your colleagues understand what you’ve been through and welcome you back?

Your experiences in the service — both positive and negative — may have made you a different person than you were before you entered, and changed the way you look at things and deal with people. If you were in combat or experienced stressful or traumatic situations during your time in the military, you may have developed habits that helped you cope in those situations, but could be misunderstood or problematic in civilian life.

“I definitely have a lot more freedom in civilian life but at the same time I feel some instability. Without the structure, order, and camaraderie I had with my unit, I felt exposed. It was a bumpy road back but the Vet Center has really helped me adjust.”

As you adjust to your transition from the military, you may:

  • Feel uncomfortable with the lack of structure and goals compared to military life
  • Miss the adrenaline of physical and life-challenging situations
  • Worry about your finances
  • Push yourself to be perfect in work and other areas of your life
  • Become annoyed with others who seem more easy-going or less detail-oriented than you
  • Feel isolated and alone, as if no one understands you

There are steps you can take to help you cope with the challenges you may face during your military to civilian transition. A healthy lifestyle can go a long way to helping you stay physically and emotionally fit and improve your overall well-being.

What should I keep an eye out for after transitioning from service?

Most Veterans go through some period of adjustment while transitioning to civilian life, but ultimately find their new roles fulfilling. However, some people deal with the transition in ways that make it difficult to enjoy life or to be successful in the civilian world. Some Veterans experience the following:

“It’s unrealistic to think that those of us who have spent time in the military can instantly readjust to civilian life. Recognizing that was very helpful for me as I was getting out.”

  • Frequently feeling on edge or tense
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anger or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling down for weeks or months

Some of the challenges that come with transitioning from the military can be difficult, stressful, or put a strain on your relationships. You might find it hard to enjoy the things you usually like doing. You may be having a tough time dealing with the death of friends that you served with. Chronic pain or other medical conditions may pose additional challenges.

What can I do about issues related to transitioning from service?

Going from something familiar, like military life, to something new and different can be challenging, but there are things you can do to help you be successful. Remember to:

  • Reach out to other Veterans or Veterans’ groups for social support
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy meals
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing
  • Recognize that others may not always agree with you or understand your military service; agree to disagree
  • Be prepared for insensitive questions or topics of conversation; practice how to respond ahead of time
  • Respectfully decline to talk about things that make you uncomfortable
  • Have a plan of action for your adjustment that includes a list of goals for your transition, your future, and your personal life
  • Try to get a good night’s sleep
  • Avoid unhealthy “quick fixes” that you think may help you cope, like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking cigarette

In addition, for National Guard members and Reservists, there are a few things you can do to help ease the transition back into your job:

  • Contact your supervisor before you return to work and discuss what your responsibilities will be, changes in personnel, and new policies or projects
  • Anticipate changes and be patient
  • Avoid taking charge and realize that your coworkers had to take on some of your responsibilities while you were away
  • Talk to other National Guard members or Reservists to hear how they’ve handled the transition
  • Make sure you understand your health coverage and get any benefits reinstated promptly

Talking to your family and friends about your experiences can be helpful as you deal with your transition. They will get a better understanding of what you are going through and may be able to provide you with support.

Take the Next Step – Make the Connection

Every day, Veterans connect with resources, services, and support that effectively address the issues impacting their lives. If transitioning from service is interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, daily responsibilities, work or ability to study, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
  • A spiritual or religious advisor

Explore these Resources for Helping Veterans Address Transition-Related Issues

Learn more about the possible associations between transitioning to civilian life and other concerns such as feeling on edge, relationship problems, posttraumatic stress, and depression.

VA GI Bill Website

This website is the home for all educational benefits provided by VA with tools and resources to help Veterans pursue college degrees, on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or non-college degrees programs. Discover resources especially for Veterans and Service members related to job performance, making the transition to civilian life, and how to recognize other issues you may be dealing with.

Real Warriors

Featuring real stories of Service members who have reached out for support, this campaign was launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to promote the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery, and supporting reintegration of returning Service members, Veterans, and their families.

Vet Center

If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator

Some problems that arise after you transition might be signs of health conditions that need attention. This link will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.

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