Moving to Post-Service Life: Advice for Spouses

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The stressful postwar drawdown that could bring an abrupt end to some Army careers could be especially challenging for some people who don’t wear the uniform: servicemembers’ spouses. For some Army families, relocating is heart-wrenching and hard work—especially for the spouse, who often spends more time at home and performs many of the day-to-day and clerical tasks of daily living. ARMY Magazine asked experts at Army Community Service (ACS), the Army Career and Alumni Program (ACAP) and other agencies for their insights into how to help spouses ease the stress associated with the transition from Army to civilian life.

Two elements are integral to any successful transition—financial planning and finding a job. The Army provides many services for the separating soldier, from the Transition Assistance Program to job listings. It also offers help specifically for spouses.

Here are some steps to follow when transitioning. With each step, take advantage of the many DoD resources, including the ACS Relocation Readiness Program on post and Military OneSource online (www.militaryonesource.mil). The National Military Family Association website (www.militaryfamily.org) also has helpful information and a new downloadable application that can provide advice and resources tailored to the individual.

* Start early. The sooner you start preparing for the move and the changes it entails, the easier it will be. Start putting together a budget and determining where you want to live. Contact friends, family and other Army spouses for their input.

*  Establish a schedule and stick with it. Soldiers who separate from the military without retiring can access services up to one year before leaving active duty. If possible, begin preparing for the transition a year in advance. Set a schedule and stick with those time frames.

*  Research the move. Brainstorm with your spouse about where you might like to live and why. That process includes local newspaper research as well as online and library visits. Check out what opportunities—especially jobs—are available to you and your spouse there.

*  Put your financial affairs in order. Determine what your debts are, your family’s combined income and any capital on hand, and how you will pay off your creditors. Do not hesitate to ask for advice, starting with the ACS Financial Readiness Program.

*  Finance the move. Set up a budget for the relocation. When you separate, the Army will pay to move your household goods, but you will not receive a dislocation allowance. Reimbursement will be different from that of a typical permanent change of station. Check for information pertinent to your particular circumstances. With prior approval, you can volunteer for a personally procured move, moving yourself with most of the costs reimbursed.

*  Identify and address medical problems. Make appointments and begin necessary treatments. Again, check with ACS for particulars germane to your family and situation. You may be eligible for the TRICARE Assistance Management Program, which provides 180 days of premium-free health insurance after regular TRICARE coverage ends. Look into TRICARE transitional health care coverage. Determine if you want to take Veterans Group Life Insurance or obtain your own coverage.

*  Consider your financial future. Discuss with your spouse how you will support yourselves in your new life and how much money you will need to sustain your current standard of living. Consider not only your current taxable incomes but also intangibles such as base allowance for housing, shopping at commissaries, and the costs of health and life insurance.

*  Work as a team. Attend as many separation briefings as possible with your spouse so that you are both on the same page and are partners in success.

* Get a job. This is the final step in the process, but it is so critical to a successful transition that it is tempting to list it as a separate half of the process. It may seem like an insurmountable task, but the Army offers plenty of help. This can be a chance to find a job you will want for life.

If you are already employed and content with that job, get your resume in order and start searching job listings in your new location. Find resume-building help on post or online. If you have no job or are unhappy in the one you have, let the Army help you start training for a new one. Do you need additional courses or certification? Use MilitaryOneSource’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) site, or visit the ACS office on post for information. Use SECO’s My Individual Career Plan to build a personalized job or career path that includes advice on how to achieve your goals. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership posts jobs. Look into the recently expanded My Career Advancement Accounts program, which offers scholarships of up to $2,000 per fiscal year to spouses of lower enlisted and junior officer active duty soldiers.

Take advantage of a website recently introduced at a job fair at Fort Campbell, Ky., by Michelle Obama as part of the Army’s Soldier for Life initiative. Register at the site—www.ebenefits.va.gov—as a family member and get help assessing your skills, finding jobs available where you live or where you want to live, building a resume and boosting your credentials with online learning.

Visit other Web resources to find jobs. Some list jobs specifically for military personnel, such as the Military Spouse Program of Hiring Our Heroes. Search other civilian sources as well, like Craigslist and the federal government’s USAJOBS portal. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse (N.Y.) University, for example, offers the free online Veterans Career Transition Program. A professional skills track sharpens job search skills, and a technology track emphasizes operations and information technology. Both are offered four times a year.

Looking for employment in one’s new location might not be enough to ensure a smooth transition. In some cases, finding satisfactory work in one’s current location before moving is also vital. History has shown that a spouse’s satisfaction with his or her job is a key to a successful transition. Not all military spouses, however, are happy in their work. Despite the many employment resources available to spouses on post and online, a survey last fall by the IVMF and the Military Officers Association of America indicated that some 90 percent of working female military spouses have more formal education and/or experience than their current or most recent jobs demand. Female military spouses also earn less than civilians in comparable jobs. According to the American Community Survey, the unemployment rate among female military spouses between the ages of 18 and 24 is nearly three times higher—about 30 percent—than among civilians of the same age. Frequent moves, the need to update licenses of certification and the fact that many installations are in locations with limited job opportunities compared to cities all contribute to the difficulties of obtaining a satisfactory job as a military spouse.

Making the transition from military to civilian life can be enormously challenging, but following the aforementioned steps can help immensely. Proper preparation and active follow-through reduce the stress of a transition as well as increase the chances of a positive outcome.