Tag Archives: transitioning

When Separating From the Military Unexpectedly Becomes Your Reality

When a service member separates from, or even considers a life outside of the military, it affects the entire family. Regardless if it is by choice, or because of the “up or out” policies of the military, it still can take a major toll on everyone involved.

Just a few months ago our family was anxiously awaiting the results of the most recent promotion boards. My husband has always planned on making the Air Force his first career, and I was anxiously awaiting my first opportunity to “pin on” his next rank (the last time he promoted was during a deployment). Then the day finally came when the promotion list was released.

My husband’s name was not on the list. The military had thrown us another curve ball and I found myself flooded with a range of emotions.

I felt angry, frustrated, and confused. My husband and I both knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the next rank due to an incident that happened nearly eight years prior. But I had convinced myself that him being worried about not making it was just his normal way of underestimating himself. I never once thought he wouldn’t be on the promotion list.

It didn’t take long for those first emotions to take a back burner to fear. I found myself worried about everything. When people would ask how my husband was holding up after the news, I always said, “You know him, just getting his ducks in a row and giving work 110 percent like always.”


I tried to play it off like this setback was no big deal. Then a close friend asked how I was feeling about all of it. I tried to act like it didn’t really effect me–since it was happening to my husband, not me. But my friend saw right through it. She pointed out that if he did separate, it would impact all of us.

When I left my job to put my husband’s career first, I put faith in the notion that my husband’s career could support our growing family. But now with his career in question, I was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings of what comes next? And you know the worst part? I didn’t want to share my fears with my husband, because I didn’t want to make him feel any worse than he already did.

I know if he does separate in the near future he will find a job he loves, he will find a new way to serve the military and our family will keep moving forward. We’ll adjust, like we always do, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.

In fact, it’s actually had the opposite effect. How are we supposed to know what to do next with our lives? We always figured we wouldn’t have much say in our path until my husband reached that magical number of 20 years, so when we talked about having a “normal” life, it always seem so far away.

Even as I say it, the idea of a normal non-active duty military lifestyle sounds terrifying. You would think I would love the idea of no more TDYs, or last minute PCSs. I would embrace the fact that our last deployment could very well be our last deployment.

But instead of being excited about these prospects, I find myself a little lost and confused. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have my husband around and out of war zones, but I know how much he loves to serve. And I would never wish for that to no longer be an option.

In the last couple of months, my husband and I have began working together to tackle all the emotions and concerns that come along with the idea of possibly separating from the military. We’ve made list after list of places we could live, ways he could still serve (i.e. Guard or Reserves), civilian jobs he might be interested in. We’ve researched and discussed each option in depth about what it would mean for both his career and our family. And even though we might not know what will come next, we are a lot more prepared than we’ve ever been in the past.

For all you spouses that find yourself in a similar situation, I have just a few words of advice. Don’t pretend it isn’t affecting you, don’t say you’re okay if you aren’t. Talk openly with your spouse. The first couple of conversations may be tough, but opening the lines of communication will save you many sleepless nights.

Has your service member ever separated unexpectedly from the military? How did your family handle the change?

Posted by Tara O’Meara, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse

Soldier to Civilian: Establishing VA Benefits

My husband, Clay, recently retired after more than 20 years of service in the United States Army. Over the past 20 years of his career, his life was reminiscent to the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere.” He has been stationed, or trained on just about every military installation in the continental United States, not to mention assignments in South Korea and Germany. Oh, and there were the deployments, training exercises and more deployments.

Our family’s transition was fairly easy. Clay has a tremendous VA staff while undergoing this process in South Korea. He was shown how to properly complete the paperwork and they handled his case with the utmost importance. Unfortunately, not all service members receive the same care in this process.

Are you a military family nearing retirement and transition? Do you know a family who is transitioning from active duty to civilian? One thing that can be difficult for some is healthcare in the VA system. So, to help, I wanted to share a list of helpful information for you prior to your transition from the military to civilian life in regards to VA Benefits. Here is my checklist that helped our family:


  • Document EVERYTHING! I don’t care how minor the issue, go to sick call and get it documented. When you begin your transition, the VA requires a copy (digital or hard copy) of your medical records. It’s difficult to claim a disability when you’ve never gone to a doctor or physician and had it documented.  You must approach the VA as if you are the person scrutinizing your own claim.
  • Make copies.  The VA requires a copy of your medical records. If you’ve served one day in the military, you already know paperwork gets lost. Don’t be a statistic. Do yourself a favor by making copies. In the event you need to file an appeal with the VA, you will need those records. Never give your only copy away. When the military medical system went online, your medical records went digital are are now kept on a secure server. If you’re like my husband and enlisted prior to 2005 (and when medical records went digital), part of your records are hard copies. Worse yet, he spent four years of his military career as a recruiter. That means he had medical records from a civilian doctor. What we found out was that the military medical system frowned upon civilian records. For example, he was stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, after recruiting. When we left Fort Bliss, all Clay’s civilian medical records were missing. Luckily, he had made copies and inserted them back into the medical records we were keeping. However, every time we PCS’d, the same happened to his civilian medical records. If you remember nothing else from reading this, remember this: MAKE COPIES!
  • E-Benefits. Each branch of the military as some sort of class that help the service member transition back into civilian life. Part of the Army Career Alumni Program process is establishing an account on E-Benefits. This website allows the service member to track and manage your benefits. You can also establish care at the closest VA medical center through this website. Take time to navigate through the website and familiarize yourself with the information provided – there’s a lot of info!
  • Disability claims. Claim everything. Sore knees? Claim it. Injured your wrist in training? Claim it. Do not be shy, timid, or think the claim “isn’t that bad.” If you have had an issue with your health (physical or mental) caused by your service, or the underlying condition could become worse as time goes along, claim the disability. Your VA representative can help you fill out the paperwork.
  • Service Officer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) offers assistance when filing VA claims. The claims process can be confusing and one that service members and veterans shouldn’t try to navigate alone.  VFW Service Officers are trained experts, helping veterans develop their case with ease by reviewing and applying current law, pertinent legislation, regulations and medical histories. As skilled professionals, they assist in filing for disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pension and death benefits, and employment and training programs. And they won’t hesitate to request hearings before the VA and the Board of Veterans Appeals to present oral arguments when needed. This is a service the VFW is proud to offer–free of charge–to anyone seeking assistance with the claims process.
  • Do not waitGet your medical documents together as soon as possible. When Clay retired, he retired from an assignment in South Korea. The wait time to obtain a copy of his records was about a month. If you wait until the last minute, there could be a delay, or worse, a denial of benefits. Get seen by medical professionals, get your concerns documented and request the records.
  • Be prepared. I wish I could tell you why the VA approves and denies claims. I’m as confused concerning the approvals and denials of benefits, too. Having said that, be prepared to appeal. Chances are, you may not have to appeal; however, be prepared to appeal. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep copies of your medical records secure. The copies that will be provided to you will more than likely be digital copies. Continue to monitor, manage and track the VA claims process through E-Benefits. Don’t hesitate to contact a VFW Service Officer to assist you in the claims process. Continue to ask questions as they arise and research on your own.
  • Be patient. The process could take up to 6 months before you receive your disability rating. There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed along the process. Every VA area is different in regards to timing. We decided to retire in Tennessee. The wait time for Clay’s disability rating was a lot quicker than most of our friends who retired in other states, yet slower in a few other states. The point I’m trying to make is to be patient. Monitor the process through E-Benefits. You can call the VA everyday, but it makes no difference. When the VA gets to you, they will get to you. Remember there are hundreds of other service members who are going through the same process as you. Be patient.
  • VA Appointments. When your service member is retiring, they will receive a call from the VA to schedule their VA appointment prior to their official retirement date. Ensure the service member’s information is up-to-date with the VA through the E-Benefits website. Whatever phone number you designate as your point of contact, try to keep it until your appointments are complete. The last thing you want is a missed call or missed appointment. These appointments will take place at the nearest VA medical facility. You will also receive a small travel reimbursement for the mileage it takes to drive there. Be prepared for the appointment to last at least 2 hours. Your service member will be asked a plethora of questions and will be checked physically from head to toe. If your service member is claiming a mental disability claim, they will also be seen by a psychologist or licensed therapist. If a service member is not retiring, the process is the same, but the appointments may or may not occur prior to your official retirement date.

I hope this list assists your family during the transition process. Reach out to other veterans to learn from their experiences and visit your local VFW. The guys and gals in the VFW are loaded with helpful information.

Do you have any helpful tips for other transitioning military families? Share them with us!

laura-prater-headshotPosted by Laura Prater, National Military Family Association Volunteer and blogger at Raising Soldiers 4 Christ

Staying Connected After Transition: Goodbye Military Community?


It was just over a year ago when my husband officially retired and we moved to a non-military area. Losing our military community felt like I had lost a piece of me. My husband and I both felt adrift. But I knew I had to regain that connection…somehow.

Even though I wasn’t in a military area anymore, I continued my volunteer work with the National Military Family Association (NMFA). I may no longer know from personal experience what’s going on at this base, or that base, but I’m still a member of numerous military spouse Facebook groups, and have many friends who are still active duty. I keep an eye and ear out for questions I can help answer, and stay on top of issues that NMFA might need to know about. And I’ve been able to support military families through numerous remote volunteer projects, too! It’s been a gift to be able to continue serving my beloved military community in this manner, and be connected virtually.

Knowing there were probably others like us in our new non-military community, even Reserve and National Guard families, I started a local Facebook group for spouses of Marines. I posted about it in our local area Facebook groups (moms’ networks, neighborhood groups, etc.) and was excited when spouses would speak up from the crowd and say, “Yes!  My husband is a Marine veteran,” or “This is great! We’re in the area on recruiting duty and would love to connect with other Marine families!”

The group now has 56 members and we’re planning our first get-together! I’m thrilled about the prospect of going out to dinner with some fellow military spouses and enjoying that ‘sisterhood’ again!

Interested in keeping or regaining that connection to the military community?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Be open to sharing your story. You never know if that other mom or dad sitting two rows down in the bleachers at your child’s game is currently serving, a veteran, or military spouse. Share your story; you just might hear, “Me too!”
  • Volunteer for, or get involved with a military-related organization, like the National Military Family Association, your local VFW or VA, or even some of the unique organizations out there, like a local chapter of Team Red, White & Blue.
  • Start a Facebook group for other local military families. Spread the word about it through your neighborhood, school, place of worship, and other networks. Seek out other transitioned families, as well as those in the Guard or Reserves, and the “onesies and twosies” out there, like those on recruiting duty, or the ROTC staff at local colleges.
  • Teach your kids’ school about military life. Schools in non-military areas need to be enlightened on the life of a military kid, and how to best support them. I’ve heard from several families whose kids say their teachers and fellow students think it’s weird they’ve lived in so many places, including overseas, and as a result, their kids feel like outsiders. Take things into your hands and meet with the administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other important people involved with your child. Share what your child has been through, and how they can best relate with him or her. Provide them resources so they can educate themselves on military families. If there are several current or former military kids at the school, consider suggesting the formation of a club for them.
  • Encourage your local governments, Chambers of Commerce, and visitors’ bureaus to include information on their websites, and in welcome packets, for inbound transitioning families. This can be a list of resources, like the contact information for local veterans’ groups, the closest military ID center, the VA, and other pieces of information valuable to military families.
  • If you become active in a place of worship, suggest they ask new members if they are a military family, and link them with other military families in the congregation. A former church of ours actively sought to identify military families and assigned a deacon who had been a military spouse to those families so they would always have a point of contact and support.

One of the greatest things about being a military family is the closeness of the military community; it’s truly a remarkable thing. I viewed it as a second family. Unfortunately, one of the hardest things about transitioning out of the military is losing that closeness and having the feeling of almost being catapulted out of that community into civilian life. If you’re a civilian family and know someone transitioning out of the military, take some time out of your day to help them through by welcoming them into your community!

Are you a transitioned family? How have you stayed connected to your military community?

Mary-Cisowski-headshot-1Posted by Mary Benbow Cisowski, National Military Family Association Volunteer, USMC spouse, mom

Veterans Have Families, Too.

girl-holding-flagsRecently, I shared some of the awesome things NMFA does for the military community, and last week, we had a great opportunity to work with the military families, and other organizations who have a huge impact within their own towns all across the country.

NMFA hosted our second Military Transition Roundtable, where we dove into discussions about how we help communities around the country prepare, support, and welcome separating service members and their families.

Some of the questions tackled were:

  • How do we prepare our communities to handle the transitioning service members and their families?
  • Can military support organizations open the door to the civilian community more, if so, how?
  • How do we help these organizations move beyond offering only deployment support?

Being a civilian, this conversation really spoke to me, and the work I do with military families. Before I became involved with NMFA, I would always say I was a supporter of the military, but I’m not sure I really knew what that meant. I wasn’t sure how to go beyond the word support…especially when it meant helping families transitioning out of military service. Did they still need our help?

The answer is yes. Transitioning families do still need support, and here are a few ideas the experts around the table shared to do just that:

  • Let’s get our communities to adopt a mindset which supports hiring veterans and their spouses. It needs to be cultural within community businesses and organizations.
  • If community organizations should make a habit of asking newcomers if they’re members of the military.
  • There are significantly more information gaps and confusion when it comes to transitioning out of the military, and families in the throes of it are navigating as best they can. Just because families are finding their new normal outside of the military, doesn’t mean we need to stop supporting–we just need to change how we’re doing it.
  • Let’s encourage civilians to be the connecter in their communities.
  • Community organizations can make relationships with transitioning families happen by reaching out and talking to military family readiness leaders to find out how to help.
  • We must continue to make it known that veterans have families, too. In some instances, we are dealing with communities who aren’t thinking about the families behind the veteran, so, how do we shift the conversation?

If you are interested in seeing more, check out a full recap of our tweets from our Roundtable discussion.

What are some ways communities, and civilians, can help make transitioning military families feel more at home? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager


Getting Out: 4 Reasons I Won’t Miss Active Duty Life

sailor-saying-goodbye-to-wifeWe’re getting out. After 22 years of service, my husband is making the transition to civilian life. I’ve been by his side for 13 of those years, and I’ll admit, I’m finding it hard to accept my new role as something other than a military spouse. There are so many things I’m going to miss about military life, which I wrote about here, but let’s be honest: there are definitely things I won’t miss once we’re on ‘the other side.’

I won’t miss things like:

Saying goodbye. In our 13 years together, my husband and I spent at least eight of those years living separately thanks to deployments, unaccompanied tours, separations due to employment, or long term training. Words cannot capture the dread that would build in my heart in the weeks approaching a deployment, the desperation of the last night before the dreaded flight, the weight of the ceremony, the emptiness of the car ride home. I am forever thankful for the service and sacrifice of those still deploying, but I am even more grateful it will never be my husband’s service, or our sacrifice, again.

“Rank” discrimination. While military spouses officially have no rank, in my opinion, many perpetrate class-based discrimination against their fellow spouses. As a senior enlisted spouse, I found myself shunned from some events since my husband was not an officer. Simultaneously, I was penalized by junior enlisted spouses for living in a household that made too much money. Let’s stop separating ourselves and support each other for what we are: people joined in a common life experience, supporting our active-duty spouses, while raising families and meeting our own life goals. Together we’re stronger, right?

Keeping up with the Joneses. My last few years as a military spouse turned me into brand-name loving fiend. Prior to relocating to our last duty station, I never owned a Coach purse, and I wouldn’t have even considered spending what we did on my most recent purchase from Louis Vuitton. But spending money on brand name goodies seems to be an ingrained part of military life: from the healthy Kate Spade selection at the Exchange, to the brand name clothes, to the status cars. It seems like everyone is trying to out-do each other, and that’s probably why a lot of military families are in debt, in my opinion. I don’t know if post military life will change my ways, but now that I’m backing away from the ‘forest,’ I can see the trees …but, that doesn’t mean I’m giving up my purses!

The sense of entitlement. Though we’ve all played a role in our spouse’s career, we’re still military dependents, and the benefits granted to are because of our service members. As an Army/Air Force civilian employee and volunteer on post, I have witnessed numerous cases of spouses behaving badly at all levels. All the services and support we have access to are benefits, not entitlements, which can be taken away. And if you don’t write your Congressman, some of them might well be a thing of the past. Military spouses who want to benefit from the sense of community on their installations should be ready to stand up and contribute to it; if you don’t like the events the FRG is holding, volunteer to help plan a function. If you don’t feel there are enough military guards manning the crosswalks in front of your child’s school, help organize a group of parents to do the job. Start being part of the solution!

Sure, it’s easy to point out the things I won’t miss about military life. But what really matters is your own experience, the bonds you formed, and the amazing places you’ve lived, all because of a lifestyle that most don’t have the chance to live. I’ll see you on ‘the other side!’

Can you relate to any of these? Will it be different in the civilian world? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Laura-Yates-headshotPosted by Laura Yates, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Army spouse

6 Things You’ll Miss About Military Life

spouse-at-homecomingMy husband is in the process of transitioning out of the Army after 22 years of service. After three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, two tours in Korea, and a stint in Kosovo, he’s paid his dues, and he’s finally ready to make the transition to civilian life. Looking back at the years I accompanied him along his journey, I have mixed feelings moving on from the role of Army spouse. One thing I know is there are plenty of things I’ll miss about being an active duty spouse.

Here are 6 things I’ll miss most:

Pride of service. Active duty life is not an easy one, and those who choose to live it (especially for over twenty years) deserve commendation for their commitment. Active-duty service members certainly don’t serve for the money, and they’re not in it for the lifestyle. Most do it because they love their country and what it stands for. My own association with military service, both as a spouse and as an Army/Air Force civilian employee, has made me feel like I’ve contributed to something greater than myself, and experienced something unique.

My Army home. There is a charm to active duty life not experienced by most Americans; like the moments we pause to honor the flag each day. I always felt in some ways, life on a military base combines old-time America with the best of what American should be: a place where tradition and professionalism transcend all boundaries. I miss it now that we’re away from our Army hometown.

Wonderful friendships. One of the great fortunes of my military life was forming close friendships that were a source of great support during periods of separation from my husband. The time spent together for holiday meals, fun weekend trips, and unit functions brought a level of closeness similar to the relationships I had with college roommates and high school besties. Some are sure to be lifelong friendships, and all had their place in helping me survive these difficult years.

Limitless opportunities. How many spouses have the opportunity to visit (or live) with their spouse in a foreign country, immersed in new language, cuisine and culture? Thanks to this lifestyle, I’ve traveled to Korea, flown in military aircrafts, rappelled down a 50 foot tower, met 8 of the 9 US Supreme Court Justices, and even the President of the United States. I was able to participate in a professional development program through my work, where I was able to meet some of the Department of Defense’s most pre-eminent senior leaders. I’ve sailed on a Navy destroyer, and even attended a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony with WWII Veterans who were present on that fateful day. Many of these things might not have happened, had I not chosen this military life.

Great benefits & support. As a prior installation employee and Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader, I became familiar with many of the resources available to military families. In addition to the hundreds of installation personnel waiting to assist with services and support, numerous private organizations exist on post to support military families. I found our units’ Family Readiness Group offered a great opportunity to meet other spouses. If you’re not sure where to look, ask your FRG leader, visit the Family Support Center on your installation, or visit the base’s website or social media sites!

My sense of (MilSpouse) self. As my husband’s time in the Army winds down, I realize I’m facing a real challenge: adjusting my own sense of self to reflect a reality where I am no longer an active-duty spouse. I have spent so many years living and breathing military installations, befriending other MilSpouses, and shopping almost exclusively at the commissary, I’m not 100% sure who I am without that identity. My challenge now, along with my husband, is to grab hold of the weight of my military life experiences, both good and bad, and make that leap.

Being a military spouse will always be a part of me, and in many ways shaped who I am today. But I look forward to the challenges to come, and becoming the person I’m meant to be in the next chapter of our military life…transition.

Have you been a military spouse? What would you add to this list?

Laura-Yates-headshotPosted by Laura Yates, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Army spouse

Make the Most of Your Post-Military Health Care Options

My biggest stressor during my husband’s separation from the military was finding new health care for our family. I was pregnant with our second child while my husband was going through the transition process, and I didn’t know if he would be eligible for the Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP).

And guess what? We didn’t find out we were NOT eligible for TAMP until AFTER he separated from the military. Just in case TAMP wasn’t an option, I explored the Continued Health Benefit Plan (CHBP). This plan has several pros and cons:

-Coverage is similar to TRICARE standard
-Coverage ranges from 18-36 months
-Coverage is available for the entire family, or just the service member

-A quarter of premiums are due up front ($2,868 for a family)
-Includes cost-shares and deductibles
-Deductibles from TRICARE standard to NOT carry forward to the CHBP coverage

CHBP may be an option right after TRICARE or TAMP coverage ends.

What are some of your other options? You may consider an employer’s health insurance plan, finding insurance in the individual market, or coverage through the Affordable Care Act. If you’re losing TRICARE, TAMP, or CHBP coverage, you’ll have a qualifying event, which means you don’t need to wait for open enrollment to come onto the plan. For our family, finding coverage in the ‘marketplace’ through the Affordable Care Act was the best option. Some good things about this coverage for us was:

  • Subsidies to pay for premiums are available based on your income
  • A wide-variety of plans to choose from ranging from HMO plans similar to TRICARE Prime and PPO plans similar to TRICARE Standard
  • We were able to keep our current providers
  • Monthly premiums are paid at the beginning of the month (not 3 months up front as required by the CHBP)
  • If you move, you can apply for coverage in another state

Here’s what we did:

Are you considering post-military health care options? What would you recommend to others separating from the military who are not eligible for retirement health care benefits?

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager