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Navigating the transition to civilian life

I feel like I had enough time, I just didn’t know what to do. That's the difficult part about transitioning out: no one in the military has transitioned out, so there isn't someone that can explain how to do it.

— Veteran (within one year of separation)

Where we are

Each year, approximately 200,000 Service members leave the military and must reorient their lives. This includes fundamentals like their employment and education, finances, housing, health, and even relationships.

Existing research shows that navigating the military transition can be burdensome and confusing for Veterans, their families, and their supporters. While progress has been made, data suggests that around half of all recently separated Veterans don't connect with available resources and benefits for several years, and sometimes only when they are in crisis. Improving military-to-civilian transition can serve as early intervention to downstream challenges with Veteran homelessness, suicide, health, unemployment and underemployment, and poverty. Addressing these challenges can have lasting ripple effects on a community of approximately 43 million Veterans, family members, survivors, and caregivers.

 

Approximate number of Service members who leave the military each year:
200,000
Approximate number of Veterans, family members, survivors, and caregivers in the U.S.:
43M
How might we support transitioning Service members' ability to navigate available resources and steps so they can confidently and successfully reintegrate into civilian life?
Challenge
How might we support transitioning Service members' ability to navigate available resources and steps so they can confidently and comprehensively reintegrate into civilian life?


Our approach

To start, we listened to people’s stories.

The Life Experience research team spoke with Service members, Veterans, and other military-connected people nationwide about this moment in their lives and where the government process could have been simpler and more helpful. The listening sessions captured honest conversations about peoples' experiences, candid feedback on what could have worked better, and what really made a difference for them. Their stories have been combined and are represented here through illustrations. The quotes are real, but names have been changed.


Lewis, Lifer
Entered the military at a young age
Proud of his service
Not sure what life holds after the military

Juanita, Goal-Oriented
Views the military as a way to reach education and career goals
Unsure if she will stay or retire
Has a plan for civilian life

Kari, True Separator
Joined the military young without a plan for what's after
Military culture is not a good fit
Will need to start from scratch in civilian life


Lewis, Lifer
Entered the military at a young age
Proud of his service
Not sure what life holds after the military
Planning to transition:
Lewis will focus on his military career until his last day of service. Planning for civilian life is not currently a high priority for him.
Finding support: Lewis lacks awareness about future supports because he isn’t thinking about what's next after service.
Accessing resources: Lewis sees transition planning as a “check the box” task while still in the military.
“I haven’t wrapped my head around being a retired Veteran. I don’t want to walk in and say, I’m [my rank] retired.”
Pain Point
Clarity of key steps
The current transition process lacks standardization and clarity around what’s important. Planning how to navigate VA services while still in service, surrounded by active duty peers, can be confusing and difficult for Service members.

Juanita, Goal-Oriented
Views the military as a way to reach education and career goals
Unsure if she will stay or retire
Has a plan for civilian life
Planning to transition:
Juanita aims to maintain a general post-military plan she created before joining the military.
Finding support: While in service, Juanita seeks out reliable resources and information about how to add actionable steps toward achieving her educational and career goals but struggles to set aside time for future planning.
Accessing resources: Juanita knows resources are available but is unsure where to start or how to translate her plans into specific actions and doesn't have time in service to navigate and plan.
“The best way to describe the checklist [the military provides when you’re out processing] is a scavenger hunt. You have to turn in a bunch of paperwork, but it doesn’t give a lot of helpful information.”
Pain Point
Lack of dedicated time
Service members are overloaded with information over a compressed timeframe that often prevents understanding and action. A Commander or Supervisor has an outsized influence on whether the Service member is granted the time, space, and acceptance to pursue their personal career transition.

Kari
Joined the military young without a plan for what's after
Military culture is not a good fit
Will need to start from scratch in civilian life
Planning to transition:
Kari has a general idea of what life outside the military looks like, but has been more focused on making it to her end date rather than career planning for life after service.
Finding support: Kari will need housing and financial support from family and friends after transitioning, since she doesn’t have a specific plan for civilian life.
Accessing resources: Because of her experience during her time in the military, Kari is hesitant to remain too connected, and is wary of VA resources.
“Well, I mean, I was at the end of my rope. I couldn’t go any further.”
Pain Point
Frustration with connection to service
For those Service members that had bad experiences with their command, role, or environments during their service; and those that may even feel judgement from leaders or their peers upon a decision to separate, a focus on “getting out” can increase hesitancy to even plan for or stay connected with programs that could help.

 

Overall, the team spoke with 200 people through interviews as well as site visits to military installations.

The team spoke with:

  • 50 recently separated Veterans
  • 71 transitioning Service members
  • 10 family members
  • 69 individuals from the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs, and community subject matter experts

Discovery insights

Framing for collective thinking about customer pain points

How might we provide a transparent transition process that focuses on the future success of the transitioning Service member?

How might we help transitioning Service members approach social reintegration in a genuine and dedicated way before and after separation?

How might we provide equitable, relevant, and high-quality individualized guidance and clear instructions available throughout the transition process?

How might we consider opportunities to improve existing military resources that ease the Service members’ reintegration post-separation?

Next steps

Teams are currently working on identifying and scoping projects to move into the design phase. Please check back on this page in the coming months for updates.

Project Documentation

Agency collaborators

  • General Services Administration
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Office of Management and Budget
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Small Business Administration