My husband’s decision to ETS from the Army after ten years of active duty service did not come lightly. He and I had discussed it at length, but it was ultimately his decision that I would support no matter what, as military spouses do so often. After consideration of career potential, our savings account, and his happiness, he decided ETSing was the best choice for the future of our family.
As many of you can imagine, ETSing brings about a lot of change. I’m not certain if it is always this difficult, or if it was the fact that I was pregnant and we were moving back to the States after living in Germany for nearly three years. Needless to say, the change was just as difficult for me as it was for him.
We faced several challenges during the transition from soldier to civilian. Many of them may seem obvious, but taking them all head on at the same time proved to be more draining, and expensive than expected.
Finding a job – Of course this is a huge part of leaving the military. To minimize the financial burden of leaving the military, my biggest piece of advice would be to take as much terminal leave time as possible. We were able to take sixty days. Use this time for the job search and interviews, if they hadn’t already started the process prior to terminal leave beginning. Better yet, try to hook up with a headhunter or recruiting agency to help with the job search. Most of these companies offer free resume writing and interview training to help make the candidate as successful as possible.
Car taxes and registration – Some of us leaving Germany are coming home with luxury cars. Be prepared to pay state tax depending on where you’re registering the vehicle. I’ve heard that in some cases you are exempt from this tax, but this usually only applies when you are active duty. Once you’re civilian, those generous exemptions no longer apply. Be sure to research and be prepared to pay a pretty penny. We ended up having to pay approximately $2,500 to register our new BMW in Florida.
Buying a house – When you’re in the military, housing expenses are generally covered. Once you make the leap to civilian life, your housing expenses are all your own. Sure, you could rent, but haven’t we all dreamt of owning our own homes? From home inspections to closing costs, down payments, and home maintenance, it all adds up very quickly. VA loans can be a good way to go when getting a mortgage, but may not always be the best choice if you’re already planning to make a large down payment. Be sure to do your research and understand all of the fees that make up your closing costs.
Health insurance – Ahhh, Tricare! I’d suspect that many of you would be excited to leave the government system for this reason alone. In some ways, I get it. But in other ways, be careful what you wish for. After your ETS date, you are no longer eligible for free, or otherwise inexpensive, healthcare. You can enroll, and pay for, a health care program called the Continued Health Care Benefits Program (CHCBP). Find the current costs here. On one hand, it’s great that this program is available to ETSing veterans, but it could also be considered highway robbery. The best way to avoid this expense would be to have a civilian job with insurance coverage lined up immediately after the ETS date. Just remember to check when health care coverage begins with the new employer.
Finding a doctor – In the military, you generally don’t have many choices when it comes to finding a doctor, at least I did not while stationed overseas. When you become a civilian, there are many more options, but along with that comes a bit more stress. I found myself asking a lot more questions. How do you know if the doctor is any good? Will my insurance cover the expenses? Even if the doctor is preferred in-network, how much of the bill will I be responsible for? In addition to these basic questions, I was challenged by the fact that I needed to find an OB when I was twenty-two and thirty-five weeks pregnant following our two moves after leaving Germany. It was a challenge to find a doctor who would accept a new patient so far along in her pregnancy and who had government insurance. While it would be difficult to avoid this challenge all together, being mentally prepared for it may help the transition go a little more smoothly.
Making friends – Moving to a new area can always be somewhat nerve-wracking, even in the military. However, at least in the military, you are almost guaranteed to make some friends. You’re surrounded by people with a common bond, in similar age groups, and usually you can find someone with similar interests. Once you’re a civilian, finding people with many things in common can prove to be difficult. You hope you can find friends among your coworkers, but they are not all of the same age group anymore. To find a network of friends, you’ll need to be prepared to put yourself out there a little more, looking for special interest or church groups. My husband and I are still dealing with this challenge, but I’m hoping it is just a matter of time before we are hosting gatherings and barbecues.
While we have conquered most of these challenges, the process was not as simple as we had hoped. Six months after making the transition from military to civilian, we have started to settle into our new lives. We love our house and have started projects to help make it feel like home. The sense of normalcy we all yearn for is beginning to set in.
Do you have any tips for service members and their families to prepare for an ETS?
Originally published 3/14. Updated 6/20.