Developing A Civilian Career After Military Service

Military service is an honorary profession: you’re ensuring that our country remains free and protected from all external threats. However, it can also make it difficult to find a job once you return home, especially if you’re struggling with issues such as PTSD or a disability. 

It’s entirely possible to thrive after your military service and develop a successful career that brings you great satisfaction, but it requires time, care, and support. You need to take advantage of all programs available and identify new pathways that build off the skills you’ve already strengthened, and this can feel quite challenging when you’re already adjusting to civilian life. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most important elements of building a strong career outside of the military so that you can reach your greatest potential.

Take Advantage of All Possible VA Benefits

Firstly, know that the Department of Veterans Affairs has a variety of programs available to assist veterans, including disability compensation, healthcare, home loans, and education.

VA Disability

Those who were injured during their time serving can apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs that will help make up lost income and pay for medical treatment. 

Filing a VA disability claim can be difficult; in fact, the majority of claims are initially denied, and the denial must be appealed. This is particularly challenging for those suffering from mental health conditions due to their service, even if it is clearly connected to traumatic events like military sexual assault. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of how-to guides and resources available from fellow veterans that will help demystify the process. You can contact coaches who will walk you through every step, including what kinds of documentation you need based on your particular condition. For example, those with PTSD need to fill out additional forms and undergo evaluations to prove that the trauma is directly connected to their time in the military. If you develop a chronic condition after service, it has to be within a specific time frame – typically one year after discharge – or the VA may determine that it isn’t related to your service. 


You may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through the VA. As with disability claims, you need to meet specific guidelines. Those who served prior to September 7th, 1980, are automatically eligible, as are those who were discharged due to a disability directly connected or exacerbated by their service. If you have made a successful disability claim, you are considered to have “enhanced eligibility,” which makes it much more likely that you will be approved.

You may also be eligible if you were discharged due to hardship. Others need to have served for 24 continuous months, or the full period in which they were called to active duty.

This healthcare enables you to get free or low-cost care at a Veterans Affairs hospital; it’s not used anywhere that is not directly connected to the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, it doesn’t disqualify you from other government insurance programs such as Medicaid or Medicare, so you can still be covered should you choose to receive medical care outside of the system.

VA Loans

Veterans Affairs also provides home loans to active-duty military members and those who were honorably discharged. These loans require no down payment, do not have private mortgage insurance, and are provided at a much lower interest rate than other loans. You will get them through a private lender, just as with a conventional mortgage, but the government will back the loan, which makes them more widely available than other loan programs.

Like with healthcare, you need to meet certain qualifications, including time of service and type of discharge. You’ll also need to apply and be approved for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), which you will provide to the mortgage lender when you apply for the loan. 

Educational Benefits

Lastly, you can qualify for tuition support through the GI Bill, which is used to help veterans develop further training to better reintegrate into society. You can get low or no-cost tuition at qualifying schools; this includes private schools, state universities, and community college. You must check the requirements, apply, and be accepted into the given school in order to receive this financial aid. It does not interfere with getting federal student loans or private loans, and many veterans choose to fill out the FAFSA as well as apply for VA education benefits to ensure that they don’t have to pay upfront for their education. 

Utilizing all of these programs can reduce your financial hardship, but you need to carefully check eligibility and apply for each program; they are not automatically provided to you upon discharge. Thankfully, there’s plenty of help out there for those who need help navigating the eligibility and application process, as well as appealing a denial. VA claims coaches, healthcare advocates, mortgage loan officers, and financial aid officers will all be of great help to you, so don’t hesitate to reach out to these specialists should you have any questions.

Simply knowing that your basic needs are provided for can help you feel more confident as you face your job search and work to develop your career.

Identify Jobs That Best Match Your Needs

Once you’ve identified all of the benefits that are available to you, it’s time to look for employment. This can feel even more insurmountable, especially if you enrolled in the military directly out of high school; you’ve never had a civilian job before and aren’t sure what to do first. 

Take time to think about your goals, aspirations, and strengths in order to unlock your true potential when it comes to your career. 

The O*NET Interest Profiler is an excellent resource: you can take a quiz that will ask you about what types of things you think you may enjoy doing. In this quiz, you’ll answer how satisfied you would be if you were tasked with doing specific activities, such as laying tile or managing a retail store, and it will match you with different occupations that may meet your needs. You can then look at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to see what types of careers this may fit, what you’ll need in order to join that career, and what type of salary you can expect should you choose to enter the field. This will help you determine what educational programs you should apply to meet your goals.

Leverage Skills You Learned While Serving

Writing a resume and selling yourself to employers can be hard, even for civilians. It’s more difficult if you feel that your skills, such as handling ammunition or disarming bombs, might not match something that would be lucrative and fulfilling outside of the military.

Often it’s helpful to think about soft skills that you may have learned, such as teamwork, coordination, time management, good communication, or organization, which are helpful in nearly every career. Military service provides you with excellent experience in taking direction, working well with others, and problem-solving in high-stress situations, all of which can be of immeasurable benefit in many fields. Sell these by giving specific, focused examples of when you utilized these during your time in the service during job interviews.

You can also determine how proficient you may be in skills that are adjacent to what you used in the military. For example, if you helped to maintain radios, you may do a great job at telecommunications and may only need a year of trade school before you can enter the field.

Many former service members find they do well in other fast-paced, high-intensity professions, such as being a police officer, firefighter, or EMS technician. While these will require more training, they also are very well suited for those who are physically fit and familiar with making quick decisions in a stressful situation.

Use Veteran-Specific Job Boards

Military members often face stigma when applying for jobs outside of the service. Some employers may feel that the skills they learned in the military are not suited for the corporate world, while others may believe that the culture of the armed forces makes former members too rigid and unable to take initiative. There’s also many prejudices against those who are struggling with PTSD, anxiety, or anger issues due to their military service, despite the fact that with proper mental health support, anyone with a mental illness can still be an excellent and dedicated employee.

As such, veterans may find it helpful to work with veteran-specific job boards. These boards have a network of veteran-friendly employers who either prefer or are open to working with former service members. You can find employers from nearly every field imaginable on these job boards, including those in IT, healthcare, business management, or hospitality. 

If you don’t want to sign up for a veterans-only job board or aren’t finding what you want, Indeed also has an option for “military encouraged” under the “Encouraged to Apply” section. This will filter results by those who have specifically mentioned that they would like to work with veterans.

Returning to the civilian world can be very overwhelming for many veterans, but there is plenty of support available. Work to find all the benefits you can to help you meet your needs, then think carefully about what you would like to do based on your interests. Find ways to present your unique skills in a way that will appeal to employers, and find companies that encourage veterans to apply to them. Remember that you’ve done great service to your country and that this is something you should be proud of; that confidence will translate to staying optimistic during your job search and throughout your new career.