Separation from the military is a crazy time! You may be excited about what comes next, or you may be terrified, or both! There are so many things to do, from planning your next step to deciding where to live to making sure that the service member’s disability claim is done properly. It is a lot!
But you are not alone. This checklist pulls together the best information from thousands of military service members and their spouses. You won’t need to deal with every item on this list, but this gives you an idea where to start thinking, then a framework for taking action. Print it out, cross off everything that doesn’t apply to you, and get to work!
As with all information on this website, this is not an official source. We gather and distill information so that’s easy to access and understand, but we can’t share every possible variation and exception. Always refer to official sources and verify that information provide applies to your unique situation.
More Than 2 Years Before Military Separation
Think about attending the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) classes earlier than the usual timeline. I think 3-5 years out is a great time to go through the program for the first time. (Your command may disagree with me LOL.) The official guideline says to start within two years of transition, or no later than 365 days before transition. Spouses should also attend if at all possible. Spouses have different questions than the service member, and remember different tidbits of information. Plus, rehashing the stuff that was covered each day is a great conversation starter for how you want things to unfold.
Start thinking about what life might look like after the military. Talk to your spouse, if you have one. This is an ongoing conversation that includes so many factors: jobs, climate, personal preference, schools, access to military resources, etc. In reality, many former military members end up going where they find a job. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s what’s going to happen, it’s a lot easier to come to that conclusion earlier rather than later.
Continue working on your transition fund.
If you don’t already have adequate post-military coverage, start looking into your life insurance options for the service member and spouse. Get this into place as soon as possible – do not wait until you’re starting the military and disability medical processes, and definitely don’t wait until after you leave the military. You can’t make good decisions about VGLI until you know whether you are insurable on the civilian market.
Identify any educational or employment programs that the service member or spouse may want to complete while still on active duty. Looking into offerings by:
- Institute for Veterans and Military Families
- Military Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO)
- The American College of Financial Services
- U.S. Department of Labor
- USO Pathfinder – Coursera program
Catch up on all the medical stuff that you’ve been avoiding. Make appointments to document all your medical issues, and make and complete specialty appointments, as necessary. That nagging shoulder or hearing problem or snoring that makes your whole family complain? Get the process started now.
If you own rental property, make sure you understand the military extension on the capital gains exclusion. You may want to sell that property before or shortly after transition so you don’t lose that exclusion. This is a good time to map out the short-term and long-term plan for any rental properties, and see how different actions can impact the big picture.
24 Months to 18 Months Before Military Separation
Make an appointment with your local Transition Assistance Program for required counseling.
Create a LinkedIn Account, or start building out your network.
Review and update all your military records, including educational/training records, security clearance, and administrative/personnel files. Correct anything that is wrong, and fill in any missing items. Make a copy for your own files.
Build out your three post-military budgets.
Learn about the Department of Veterans Affairs Disability Compensation application program, and plan your timeline. Don’t forget that the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program can get any benefits started faster. Identify the local organizations that offer Veterans Service Officer services. Gather reviews on the VSOs in your area, if you have more than one choice.
Understand the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program. Even if you don’t expect to meet the criteria, it’s good to understand how it works. Keep in mind that very few people actually receive DIC, so don’t base a plan around it.
If you have a child in military childcare, start looking for non-military options. Some areas have very long lists.
If you are hoping to work in a government job after separating from the military, learn whether there will be any restrictions or waiting period.
12 Months to 18 Months Before Military Separation
Start gathering medical records for the service member and family members. It gets harder to access this information once you’re separated.
Get help from one or more of the many resources that help veterans with resumes to create your master resume and learn how to tailor it to each potential job.
If you haven’t done it yet, go to a TAP workshop. Decide whether you want to attend any of the supplemental programs such as entrepreneurship, education, vocational training. Don’t forget your spouse!
Investigate the various internship programs available to transitioning military members and their spouses. Many have very specific timelines – it’s sad to miss a cool program because you learned about it too late.
Make sure you understand your military separation move entitlements.
Address any outstanding medical issues. Get any anticipated dental and medical care that you can imagine: Have that weird mole biopsied. Fix that tooth that needs work.
If necessary, submit your resignation letter through your chain of command.
Explore whether you’ll be eligible for continued medical coverage through the Transitional Assistance Management Program, or you want to purchase coverage through the Continued Health Care Benefit Program.
6 Months to 12 Months Before Military Separation
Find out your unit or branch’s required paperwork, and timelines for the paperwork.
Work on clearing out your closets and cupboards if you are going to be moving house.
Schedule your final medical and dental appointments.
Be sure you know when your last active duty pay will be paid and when any VA disability compensation will start. There is often a delay for last active duty paychecks, and you want to be prepared for this.
Keep refining your thoughts on what life will look in the future. Where will you live? Will you go to school? What’s the job situation? Consider renting for a year until you get settled.
Consider whether you would like to enroll in the Federal Long Term Care insurance program while you are still eligible, and explore eligible family member coverage.
If you have the choice, start planning whether you will take terminal leave or sell back your excess leave. You may also get 20 days of Permissive TDY for transition purposes. See if that is something that your command is going to authorize.
Review and update your will and other legal documents.
Make sure you have up-to-date civilian email and snail mail addresses on MyPay and the Thrift Savings Plan website. Set up a Department of Defense Self-Service (DS) Login, if you don’t already have one. You’ll need a DS login for all sorts of things, including Tricare, the milConnect website, and the Department of Veterans Affairs eBenefits site (which includes education benefits.)
Learn about the many veteran and spouse job programs, including:
6 Months to 3 Months Before Military Separation
Sign up for a free year of LinkedIn premium. (You may want to delay this depending on your plans.) Spouses, too!
Have your Separation History and Physical Exam (SHPE). This may be multiple appointments depending on your medical history.
Submit your pre-discharge disability claim under the Benefits Delivery Discharge (BDD) program.
Create an eBenefits account. Go through the steps for a “premium” account. This will allow you to access your VA benefit information online, as well as retrieve a copy of your DD 214 whenever necessary.
Be sure that you know how to access your myPay account without using a CAC card. This includes having a Login ID and a password. You may be able to reset this information online, or you may need to have information sent to you through regular postal service mail. (That’s another reason to make sure that everyone has your correct address.) Go ahead and download anything you need from your active duty myPay account, including old LES and tax statements. Your active duty myPay account should remain available for 13 months following separation.
The Last 90 Days Before Military Separation
Review your Pre-Separation Counseling Checklist (DD Form 2648.
Consider whether you want to utilize your Space A travel benefits during terminal leave. You’re still Category III – Active Duty, giving you a boost in getting on those flights.
Verify the information on your DD 214: be sure that your social security number, dates of service, name and other information are exactly right.
Have last medical and dental appointments for everyone in the family. Get necessary documentation, like kids’ sports physicals, to get you through the next few months.
Fill a 90 day supply of any necessary prescriptions.
In The Months Following Military Separation
Get multiple copies of your DD 214. Consider keeping them in separate places, just in case. Perhaps a safe deposit box, your parents’ or children’s house, etc.
Consider your options for your Thrift Savings Plan Account. The default recommendation from most advisors I respect is to keep it in TSP unless you have a specific need that can only be accomplished by moving it elsewhere – perhaps a Roth conversion.
Make a final decision about VGLI – the deadline to switch to VGLI from SGLI without a health examination is 120 days after separation.
Change your legal residence to your new location.
Expect to be called by representatives of the VA’s Solid Start program. They will attempt to contact you by phone several times around 90, 180, and 365 days after separation. The purpose of this program is to ensure that every veteran knows about the benefits available through the VA.
If you did not apply for VA disability compensation through the BDD program, file your claim now (if appropriate.)
If you have any new medical conditions that arise in the year following separation, consider whether they may be service-connected and if it would be appropriate to file a VA disability claim for them (new or updated.)
Check with your county courthouse to see if there is an option to “file” a copy of your DD-214 there. That will give you a way to get a copy even if all yours are missing, and might be faster than getting it from the VA.
Sign up for the VA’s newsletter. The sign-up box is at the bottom of this webpage: https://news.va.gov/
In The Years Following Military Separation
If you receive extra VA disability compensation because you have children, you will need to provide the appropriate documentation once they turn 18. You can continue to receive extra benefits for them until they turn 23 as long as they are in school full-time. This extra benefit applies if your VA disability rating is 30% or more. However, keep in mind that you generally can’t receive extra payments for your children and have them also receive VA education benefits. Make sure that’s all sorted out correctly each year.
If you need to file a secondary claim for conditions that are caused or aggravated by a service-connected disability, consider using the Decision Ready Claims program.
Leaving the military is a whirlwind of things to do, mixed in with excitement and anxiety and fun and stress. Use this list to help you make sure that everything gets done as easily as possible, so you can focus on the good parts!
Note: This document will always be a work in progress. If you have a comment, criticism, or trick to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: transition checklist.