CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Separating from active duty service is by no means an easy task. There are many unforeseen challenges involved with processing out of the military. Here are three areas that can pose challenges but can be overcome if proper action is taken by the individual Marine.
1. Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
For those Marines within 365 days of their date of separation, the Transition Assistance Program workshop not only fulfills a requirement, but also is a useful resource for transitioning servicemembers.
The Department of Defense mandated TAP’s creation in order to provide all servicemembers separating from active duty the tools to successfully transition to the civilian world. It’s a required workshop. Marines will not receive their DD-214 discharge papers until they have successfully completed the four-day course.
Patrick Nalty, a transition assistant with Marine and Family Services, said many Marines don’t receive TAP training with enough time left on their contract. “We recommend getting here 12 months prior to your EAS,” he said. “That will give you enough time to take advantage of all the services offered here,” he said.
Nalty said TAP is designed to prepare individuals for college and entering the workforce. It also gives Marines a perspective of life outside the military.
“I like to ask the Marines what they are going to do when they finally grow up,” he said. “When you graduate school and the GI Bill runs dry, what are you going to do? Now is the time to begin planning for that, and that’s what my office is for.”
Those who failed to plan ahead tend to leave the service not knowing what to do next. Nalty said he still receives e-mails from individuals having a hard time in the civilian world who say they wish they would have listened to the information offered in the course.
With about 1,965 homeless veterans in the San Diego area alone, Nalty said servicemembers should know how serious the civilian world can be. “We have these resources because we don’t want any more veterans sleeping on the side of the road in the cold. We provide you all of the tools you will need to succeed; we just need you to use them.”
Some of those tools include resume review services, job search assistance and career exploration.
“Come with an open mind and soak up the information we present you,” he said. “Leave all of your problems from work outside of the door and come ready to learn how to transition. “
Nalty said the TAP course is fast paced, but should be taken seriously by every Marine.
“You have 13 weeks to learn to be a Marine, but only four days to learn to be a civilian,” he said.
He said in addition to attending TAP, Marines should begin saving their money prior to getting out. Nalty recommends at least six months worth of pay.
“You will still have bills to pay and need a place to stay,” he said. “All of the benefits you took for granted while on active duty, will have to be paid for when you get out.”
Nalty said Marine and Family Services is open to every servicemember even after they have completed TAP.
For more information on the Camp Pendleton transition assistance program please visit http://www.usmc-mccs.org/tamp/poc.cfm
2. Applying for school
For separating Marines planning to use their veteran’s benefits to attend college, prior arrangements are a must to ensure they are ready to attend classes.
Cliff Wilson, associate director of readmissions at the Art Institute of Houston, said the enrollment process, depending on individual circumstances, can be lengthy. He said identifying a field of study and preparing the proper paperwork should be the initial steps when preparing to go to school.
“Servicemembers should be gathering copies of high school transcripts and any college transcripts they have, military training certificates, letters of recommendation and of course a copy of your DD-214,” he said. “You should also identify and research schools that offer the field of study you want to pursue.”
Amber Hanson, the assistant director of admissions at AIH, said contacting family members and building a support system in the area could make the transition easier. “Talk to your family and friends and mentally prepare yourself for the big transition,” she said. “Military service and academia are two different worlds. I would also suggest finding a school that has a veteran’s organization. Most schools have a VA representative who is there to help out the individual servicemember.”
The GI Bill is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and is offered to servicemembers separating from the military with an honorable discharge. Marines who want to switch from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post 9/11 GI Bill should visit the VA website at www.gibill.va.gov or contact a VA representative.
3. Final physical exam
Prior to separating, every Marine is required to receive a final physical exam, which documents any ailments they may have. Marines will not be processed out by their installation personnel administration center (IPAC) until they have completed the exam.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michelle Mears, a hospitalman with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, said Marines should document any conditions before their final physical.
“A lot of people don’t trust medical or feel as if they will be looked down upon for receiving treatment,” she said. ‘What they fail to realize is that we are here to service them. If they don’t come in we won’t know they have a problem until it’s too late to do anything about it. Servicemembers automatically receive medical benefits for six months after they separate, and they shouldn’t have to use that time to fix a problem they had while still on active duty.”
She said Marines should start the final physical process about six months prior to separation. “You shouldn’t wait until the last minute to start the physical. We create a checklist to make it easier, but it’s on [the servicemember] to make sure they have enough time to get it done,” she said. “I go over the checklist with everybody who is separating, but it is their responsibility to complete it. The biggest problem we have is people waiting too late.”
For more information on the final physical please visit: www.med.navy.mil/
It is every Marines responsibility to take control of their separation process. Getting a head start can make the transition from active duty to civilian smooth and productive. Marines should take matters into their own hands, start talking to career planners and get information on all of the transition tools offered to them.