Five Tips for Reentering Civilian Life as a Veteran

Allow me to preface this article with a brief disclaimer: I myself am not a veteran, nor do I claim to have any authority on matters of civilian life after returning from a war zone—let alone being enlisted in the Navy, Air Force, Army Reserves, or Marines. However, since I have had friends and family enlisted in the Navy and various security and intelligence departments of the military, much of this advice comes not only from extensive research but also second-hand anecdotes I’ve heard, discussed, or read about.

Moreover, I have the deepest respect for those brave enough to put their lives at risk by serving their country in times of war and in times of peace—both of which can hold different types of challenges, and each requires skills such as diplomacy, cultural and language.

Without further ado, here are five practical goal and career-related tips for veterans reentering civilian life.

I.) Delving into a New Career That’s Right for You

Many who have served in the military are often well-equipped to tackle post-service life, once back in civilian mode. If you are no longer in active duty, you’ll likely want to transition to a practical, in-demand career that can dependably sustain you, regardless of location or economic downturns.

Take the business world. Professional job candidates with military backgrounds often have strong problem-solving abilities, as well as well-developed team-building skills. As a result, they may consider obtaining an MBA to build on existing practical knowledge while also developing networking relationships and entrepreneurial skills. Some may even be interested in starting their own business as a way of catering to the unique needs of the military community.

One possible challenge that may come up for veterans is proper career attire—especially for women, since there is less variety in clothing options for men. One possible temptation may be wear a very similar outfit every day, after having grown accustomed to wearing the same uniform day in and day out. Lida Citroen writes specifically for and about female veterans and offers some tips and tricks on authentic professional wardrobe-building here.

II.) Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

In addition to all we know about the benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise and wellness practices like yoga, meditation, and walking, it’s also important to focus on good nutrition and healthy habits like getting enough sleep. It’s also important to consider quitting other negative habits and addictions, if applicable.

The latest craze in smoking cessation and replacement strategies of course includes vaping, which has been shown to help manage stress in a way that is much healthier for our lungs as well as our waistlines—as smoking has been tied to not only lung cancer but also high blood pressure, loss of taste and smell, tooth decay, and increased risk of stroke and brain damage. Phew! That’s a long and terrifying list. For some people, vaping may prove a viable option, as it has for many in the military.

Unfortunately, the Navy recently released a statement banning e-cigarettes from ships and other military vehicles. In a swift repudiation, however, California Representative Duncan Hunter challenged this move, claiming insufficient evidence of clear and present danger and calling for increased regulation on faulty vaping devices as a possible alternative to an outright ban.

In his signed letter to the Navy, Hunter writes the following:

I hope that any action that the Navy takes on this issue weighs the potential risk presented by vaping products with the proven health benefits of reducing consumption of traditional tobacco products through vaping. I would also ask that the Navy consider joining me in reducing any risks associated with system use rather than taking such an extraordinary step to deny a life-saving alternative to traditional tobacco use.

In short, as a recent study in Clinical Science demonstrates, smoking cessation provides numerous benefits that are much-preferable to continuing a smoking habit—whether this be via vaping or quitting cold turkey.

III.) Dealing with PTSD: Effective Treatments

Speaking of stress, sometimes the stress we carry is not merely physical but mental and emotional, as well. Perhaps the most well-known manifestation of stress in the military community is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—otherwise known as PTSD. This condition is very common among not only war veterans and survivors of genocide, but also anyone who has experienced a traumatic event like a violent crime, a serious car accident, or a large-scale natural disaster (think Hurricane Harvey or any one of the wildfires currently raging across the mountain West).

A natural sign that you may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD is finding yourself having a very dramatic “fight-or-flight” response that sometimes can trigger a panic attack. This can involve not only an extreme feeling of fear but also vertigo, breathing problems, rapid heartbeat, nausea, stomach cramps, chest pains, and so on. More than merely a feeling of being anxious or worried, a panic attack can cause people to feel like they are in danger of dying or being killed, and it should not be dismissed as a simple case of ‘mind-over-matter’—as people unfamiliar with the symptoms can mistakenly believe to be the case.

Because of the high incidence of PTSD among veterans—some estimates put it at 30 percent (though this is probably inaccurate due to underreporting and cultural/societal stigma)—there are growing numbers of neurocounseling and behaviorally-based options available to veterans and others in need of effective, scientifically-proven, and medically researched methods of dealing with anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

If you are a veteran who has dealt with PTSD and treated it successfully, you might consider becoming a counselor who specializes in veteran-specific counseling for members of the military community—including family members and close friends who might be affected. There are numerous accredited online programs that cater to prospective students with family and job-related obligations who can obtain certification online and begin their career in counseling in a relatively short amount of time.

IV.) Utilizing VA Loans to Purchase a New House

The transition from military life to civilian life is rough enough without laborious paperwork and hurdles to leap through, regarding a down payment on a new home. Luckily there are VA home loans that make the process that much easier.

Here is a list of necessary documents to make the home loan application process that much easier, and to allow you to understand the process in a DIY manner before having to deal with a real estate agent or a bank. That way, you’ll know your options ahead of time and will feel more prepared once you are ready to put down a quote on a new home.

V.) Maintaining a Happy Home and a Curious Mind

Lifelong learning is crucial for all of us—no matter how old we may be. Though many tend to think of libraries as places for children, school trips, or the elderly, libraries actually house vast resources that have expanded beyond books to online and digital information, academic databases, and music/DVD treasure troves. In short, local libraries serve as vast informational, entertaining, and literary reserves filled with all kinds of genres catering to all types of patrons.

If you have children, you might find that a trip to the library for them turns into an unexpected source of unexpected inquiry for you. Try allowing your child to lead the way while exploring the Youth Services section. That way, the library will become a source of positive reinforcement that you can use as a reward for good behavior—rather than a duty or a chore. You could even make it into a game and challenge your little one (s) to keep their voices down and follow you quietly and quickly, as if hiding from a lion, tiger, or bear, while in the “adult” section—and then you can allow them to make more noise in the children’s section—where many other children will also inevitably be squealing over new, exciting books and games, as well!

Many libraries, these days, have an eye-catching “New Books” section, along with a coffee shop and the ability to place books on hold for you if you are strapped for time, like most of us. You might find that volunteering to teach young people or community members how to do things you learned how to do in the service—such as basic vehicle maintenance or navigating slippery roads in inclement weather—is a valuable service that allows you to not only utilize your mechanical knowledge but also give back to your neighborhood community and maybe even look favorable on your resume for future education or leadership-related opportunities!

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Are you a veteran currently in the process of civilian life reentry? Please share your thoughts in the comments section, below!

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Image source: Wikipedia Commons


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