Civilian life is just a normal routine for most people living in the United States, but it can be a daunting and confusing environment for those fresh out of military service. Service members often have difficulties adjusting to the fundamental lifestyle changes that come with exiting the military. While these challenges are commonplace and often fade over time, they can also be significant stumbling blocks that hamper personal and professional development. Whether a person is in the armed forces for only a few years or spent the bulk of their career in the service, there are plenty of ways to make the integration process easier.

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Establishing Personal Routine and Identity

Perhaps the most notable difference between military and civilian life is the absence of clear structure and purpose. Service members are accustomed to a clear chain of command, extremely structured schedules and a designated group purpose. In contrast, civilian life has very few of these restrictions. This new-found freedom can actually be overwhelming and even debilitating, especially for those who entered the military at a young age. For many people exiting the service, establishing a strict personal routine and phasing it out over time is an effective way to acclimate to the new lifestyle.

Reconnecting with Family and Friends

Being homesick is a common feature of military service and most members are excited at the opportunity to spend more time with their friends or family when they get out. However, years spent away from loved ones also means that many things have changed since they last spent time with them. People change, adopt new roles and find a new direction, so even the most familiar faces are different than they remember. Establishing a new role in a family that has continued to grow in their absence can be difficult for some veterans, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Accepting this change and being open-minded about adopting a new role within the family structure can help in the adjustment process.

Transitioning to a Civilian Occupation

While plenty of the skills learned in the military are just as useful in civilian professions, there are also a number of key differences. Learning how to dress and act appropriately for a business or other work environment can take some time. Veterans should exercise patience as they familiarize themselves with the expectations of employers. They can also seek out communities that allow them to redevelop formal social skills in a low-pressure setting. It’s also a good idea for returning service members to seek help polishing their cover letter, resume and interview skills before entering the job market.

Accessing Support Services

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is one of many organizations and outlets that offer integration support for service members returning to civilian life. These services are important for those who spent a lot of time in high-risk or high-stress situations, like combat environments. Managing stress disorders and other mental health concerns can be essential to a successful transition back into a normal routine.

Despite the difficulties that present themselves during the early weeks or months of the transition, there are plenty of things for veterans to look forward to in their new life. Rather than worrying about everything at once, service members should make the adjustment to civilian life one step at a time and try to enjoy themselves along the way.