Vets Struggle in Civilian World Transition

By Brian Rivera

After serving their country, some veterans struggle in the civilian world to find success they once had in the Armed Forces. The transition from a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman to civilian can cause a great deal of stress and hardship. It is not uncommon to see homeless people on the street with signs that say “Veteran.”

Some service members join the Armed Forces directly out of high school, heading straight to basic training after graduation. This can become a disadvantage later in life because they haven’t had the experience of supporting themselves in the civilian world.

“The military is like a parent,” says former Petty Officer Second Class Steven Bratton. “Because a roof and food are provided, it’s as if you’re doing chores for spending and saving money.”

The government either provides soldiers with on-base housing at no charge or it gives them a Basic Housing Allowance (BAH), where the amount depends on rank and length of service. If soldiers have dependents, such as a spouse or children, that also impacts the amount. Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) is likewise provided for food. Both are split into biweekly account deposits, along with base pay.  This makes living very straightforward for young soldiers whose rent and food are paid. As long as you report to duty, life in the military is financially secure.

When transitioning out, some veterans struggle when they are required to provide for themselves and budget their time and money. Some have never even created a resume. Some have never gone to an interview.

“If I got paid X amount of dollars every two weeks, I told myself ‘I need to find a job around the same amount, so I can survive on my own,’” said Raquel Olivo, a Bronx native who recently separated from the Navy.

Prior to a soldier’s retirement or separation, there are programs in each branch that prepare soldiers for the transition to the civilian world. Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) is a five-day course that helps service members prepare for their new lives. Veteran Affairs also has programs for soldiers.

Dakota Smith, who separated from the Navy in May of 2017, says he has found the transition difficult and that he is not making the same money he made in the Navy. “They had a section in T-GPS that spoke about homelessness and how some veterans become homeless.  It made me worry a bit. It made me think, ‘Man, I really need to make sure this works out because there’s no way I’m going back.’”

Sometimes military skills and qualifications don’t translate to jobs in the civilian workforce, making a job search more difficult.  Substance abuse and PTSD can affect a veteran’s success after separation.

“One thing I can say is, before you separate or retire, save as much as you can and have a plan,” said Smith. “It’s the most important thing. Make sure you prepare and plan and don’t get discouraged after separation.”

Upon enlisting in one of our nation’s five branches of the Armed Forces, many people don’t plan on what they will do once their contract is completed. Some people choose Rates or MOS (Military Occupation Specialty). Many times, enlistees may train for a job that they won’t use once they separate from the Armed Forces.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam helps determine what military occupations soldier qualify for. Steven Bratton was a master-at-arms, the Navy’s version of military police. This could translate to a job in law enforcement or security services.

“I took the first six to eight months as time to relax before I actually began searching,” Bratton said. This is common for many veterans who take a little time to unwind before going back to work. “The first job I pursued, I thought I really wanted but I left after two months. Things got a little rough and it was extremely discouraging.”

Many veterans choose to go to school with the help of the G.I. Bill. The bill helps veterans get back on their feet by providing a monthly housing allowance, so they can focus on school instead of survival.

“They provide you with 36 months of Basic Housing Allowance, but that’s only while you’re in school,” says Nick Dubberly, a Navy veteran. “During January and the summer, you’ve got to make sure you save to help you during the months that money is not coming in.” Dubberly says he has adjusted pretty well with help from family and his girlfriend “I couldn’t be happier,” he says.




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