Military Retirement: Life After the Military

Written by Valerie McCarley

For military families, the journey toward military retirement is one of both anticipation and adaptation, honoring years of service while navigating the complexities of establishing a new way of life. It’s a whirlwind of change, leaving many to wonder…

What comes next?

Good question!

The military retirement process is full of checklists and what-ifs. Our retirement journey continues, moving us closer to life after the military each day. But that doesn’t mean that the process is easy. The sheer number of decisions required to transition is overwhelming and the possibilities are endless.

Where do you even start?

Here are a few things to contemplate as you or your family prepare to transition:


1. Consider Your Budget

As an enlisted family, we’ve had a lot of experience with budgeting. Whether allocating funds for travel to visit relatives or getting creative with meals, stretching our limited funds was a vital skill we learned early in our military family life. Finding a way to make that budget work in retirement is just as important.

We needed to evaluate all sources of our post-military income to make the best decision, including:

  • Military Retirement Pay
  • VA Disability Compensation
  • Work

For us, we knew that retirement pay alone would not provide the life that we wanted, so we needed to explore work and living options that optimized our income.

Not sure how to evaluate your budget or how to start the transition process? Sign up for a DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) course online or near you. These classes are open to both service members and family members!

Bonus Tip: Encourage your service member to start their VA claim process early. Submit between 180 and 90 days before transition to begin the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) claim process.

2. Where Do You Want to Live?

Although we adored the climate and beautiful beaches California offered at our last duty station, the cost of living was simply too high for our newly defined military retirement budget. That meant we were moving. But, where to?

With the world our oyster, we needed to narrow down our search. Many military families have a transition plan in place long before they settle down. For us, we planned on finding the right job in a location with a lower cost of living to guide our decision, but many other components may influence your military transition choice.

Factors to consider in your search for a new ‘Life After the Military’ home:

  • Cost of Living
  • Proximity to Family
  • School District and/or Education Support
  • State Veterans Benefits (ex. Property Tax Exemptions, Higher Education funding, etc.)
  • Availability of Services (Hospitals, VA Clinic, etc.)

A work opportunity ultimately drove our location decision, but we’re still searching for our forever home.

3. Create Value

How can you create value for yourself or others? This might be the single most important (and terrifying!) question to consider both now and in the future. The good news? Your answer can continue to evolve alongside you, offering you the chance to reevaluate as you go.

Finding meaning and purpose in your next phase of life is critical to overall well-being and happiness. Discover what is important to you and do it! Whether paid or non-paid, doing work that provides value to yourself or others will provide a deep sense of fulfillment.

“Strive not to be of success, but rather to be of value.”
-Albert Einstein

It might take a while to discover what you enjoy doing. That’s okay! Don’t be afraid to try a new job or a new hobby. Life after the military will look different than life in the military. But you get to choose!

For my husband, the DoD Skillbridge Program offered him an opportunity to test an entirely new career. Providing valuable job training in the last 180 days of service, DoD Skillbridge offers industry-specific training, apprenticeships, and internships to help bridge the gap of military transition to civilian life. He’s embracing a new industry and a new lifestyle, making the most of his last few months on active duty.

There are so many resources that provide both military spouse support and transitioning service member support, including the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA).

The ASYMCA Can Help You Navigate Military Transition

Offering low- or no-cost programs and services that meet the needs of active-duty military families, especially junior enlisted, the Armed Services YMCA can help ease your transition before separation. Food assistance programs such as the Neighborhood Exchange and food pantries can help stretch your grocery budget as you ease into those last few months of military pay. Operation Ride Home and Operation Holiday Joy can provide much-needed financial relief during the holiday season. And there’s so much more! Learn more about how the ASYMCA can help ease your family’s transition today.


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