The current U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recommendation for transitioning military is to begin your transition planning a full 12-24 months before the first day of your actual transition process. This recommendation is based on many decades of studying the challenges and opportunities of the transition process. Veterans who have successfully navigated the transition process state that early planning is the key to creating the smoothest transition for both the military person and their loved ones. As well, because some aspects of the transition process, such as accessing various categories of benefits, have their own learning curve, careful planning ensures you will have access to each category of benefits on or before the date you and your loved ones actually need to use them.

A Note About Veteran Mentors

The military recommends that each transitioning active duty service person make contact with a veteran mentor long before the date of their transition. This veteran mentor can lend their knowledge and expertise to ease the transition process and also provide resources to benefit your loved ones.

Veteran Mentors

Recommended Timeline for Your Transition

The full transition process has two timelines depending upon whether you are transitioning out of the military after a term of service, or you are retiring after a military career.

  • 12 months. One year is the recommended pre-planning time for active duty personnel who are returning to civilian life after serving one or more tours of duty.
  • 24 months. Two years is the recommended pre-planning time for active duty personnel who are retiring from a career in the military.

Recommended Timeline for Transitional Steps

This recommended transition timeline can be adjusted as needed based on your status (transitioning versus retiring). The time periods are given as months of time prior to your transition.

  • 18-12 months.Educate yourself on the full complement of military benefits available to you, choose a civilian career goal, determine how to access scholarships for veterans to aid in your continuing education and career preparation, make contact with your transition counselor and begin selection of your desired college or training course.
  • 12 months. At least 12 months prior, make contact with a veteran who can mentor you. Review your own individual pre-separation checklist, enroll in Transition GPS (formerly called TurboTAP), continue working towards your Individual Development Plan (IDP), file for your Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET), request your house hunting orders and begin to research housing in your civilian community.
  • 10-7 months.Continue networking with your mentor, your Transition Counselor and others, begin identifying your career skills and translating those into your resume, investigate the military’s employment assistance programs, research healthcare and move/transportation options for your transition date and schedule your exit physical.
  • 6-4 months.Build a job search wardrobe and launch your job search, begin attending career fairs, update all finance and will documents and decide if you want to enroll in the Transition Assistance Management Program (TAMP).Research whether you want to transfer your G.I. Bill benefits to your dependents, schedule your movers and exit physicals for family members and investigate separation pay versus early retirement benefits (if applicable).
  • 3 months.Continue your job search, sign up for job placement services if desired, research if you are eligible for VA (Veteran’s Administration) disability benefits, research your life insurance options and select an option, continue to refine your budget and financial planning for your future civilian life, order copies of all your health (medical, dental, vision) records, learn about local support services in your civilian home town and contact applicable agencies and organizations.
  • Less than 3 months.Finalize arrangements for your relocation, select the transitional health benefits plan you want to enroll in (or enroll in your future employer’s plan as available) and contact transitional military or civilian counselors as needed (including VA counselors, Transition GPS counselors and alumni program counselors).

By following this recommended timeline, you can ensure a successful transition back to civilian life.

About the Author: Bob Hayward began his transition from active duty in the Navy two years before he transitioned. As a senior officer, his goal was to set an example for others on how to transition successfully — a goal he proudly met.