Military Life, Part Three: Life After Service
Jobs And Healthcare Are The Main Concerns For Those Transitioning Out of Active Military Service
U.S. Marines and Sailors listen to members of the National Transition Veterans Services Inc. during a three-week transitioning course titled “Reboot” at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The course was designed to help Marines cope with the day-to-day situations associated with transitioning from military to civilian status. Image by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Eugenio Montanez.
By Vickie Goen
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 10, 2011 — After more than four years in the U.S. Army, Specialist Kenneth Clark left his station in North Carolina and returned to his former home in Arizona. The Army paid for the relocation of Clark, his wife, and their two children. He anticipated the time he had spent serving his country would allow him to transition into a civilian job that would enable him to support his family and begin saving for the future.
Instead, Clark was unable to find gainful employment in anything beyond fast-food or unskilled labor. After several months of searching, he was forced to return to his former job at a grocery store while he attended trade school. While he is able to use the G.I. bill to pay for his education, the employment opportunities he assumed would be available to him after the Army were blatantly absent. When asked why he thought he had problems finding work, Clark explained, “While I was in the military, I thought when I got out that finding a job would be a breeze, considering I have a military background. But employers generally look at the military as just another job and the job I did in the Army really doesn’t equate to any civilian jobs.”
The Army does offer courses that help soldiers reintegrate back into civilian life. Among those are classes which focus on writing resumes and interview techniques. The U.S. Army website refers to this as the Army Career and Alumni Program. There are also job placement services, but with the current economy, this option comes without a guarantee.
Besides employment issues, soldiers are faced with other difficulties once they leave the armed forces. One of the biggest obstacles is post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This is a mental health condition that is triggered by a stressful event. In the case of military personnel, the catalyst would be the constant combat conditions possibly endured while deployed in a war or battle zone.
Staff Sgt. Ignacio Reyes is still considered an active soldier, but currently not deployed with his unit due to PTSD. He is in his second month of a six-month rehabilitation program for soldiers with this condition.
Said Reyes, “It’s very hard to deal with civilians because they don’t understand what we are going through, our symptoms, our actions. It’s very frustrating.”
3rd Class Petty Officer Linda Ferguson said that while Veterans Affairs helped her when she was diagnosed with PTSD, she felt they, “weren’t very understanding at the time.”
In addition to PTSD, many leave the Army with other disabilities. These individuals are referred to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Here they are evaluated, and the VA decides what percentage of their pay they will receive as disability. For Ferguson, who served four years in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1994, her compensation for PTSD is a mere $123.00 per month.
After their time is completed, there are certain benefits that military personnel are entitled to, which are based on length of service. For example, if a person retires from the Army — for which career soldiers are eligible after 20 years of service — then they receive lifelong insurance coverage and retirement pay. However, for those who spend less time enlisted in the armed services, what they receive is limited.
According to Clark, he has insurance for himself for five years from his discharge date. However, he is required to see a VA doctor and use VA hospitals. This can be frustrating for those who live in rural areas without a nearby VA hospital. In some instances, it is possible to see a civilian doctor if they agree to accept the rate paid by the military’s insurance provider, TRICARE. Clark has no coverage for his wife and children since leaving the Army, so they are covered by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS — the Arizona state Medicaid program.
For some, their time serving their country was followed by disappointment in their benefits after they left. Ferguson estimates that her relocation allowance after leaving the Navy was about $1,000. Other than the small amount of disability pay she receives each month, she currently has no other benefits. Ferguson stated, “it was my understanding after leaving the Navy, I would get a slew of benefits, which I never did receive.”
An option for soldiers who are finished with their obligations, but who still want to serve their country is the U.S. Army Reserve. This allows individuals to enjoy a civilian life while still being considered a member of the military. Army Reserve members get discounted insurance rates for both themselves and their families. They also receive pay and bonuses for their service. In certain instances, there are additional benefits and compensation available, that are based on a soldier’s former position in the Army. Training for the reserves is conducted close to a reservist’s home, and the time commitment is minimal. This allows opportunities to attend college or pursue alternate careers. Specialist Clark considered the Army Reserve at one point, but instead decided to break from the Army entirely.
Clearly, even after their time is finished with the military, those who served continue to face challenges. Injuries, both physical and mental, often become a permanent part of life. Financial instability due to unemployment is a struggle for many. Covering healthcare costs for family members can also be a significant problem.
(Editor’s note: Training and Service was Part One of the series and is viewable here. Part Two, Pay And Benefits is viewable here.)
Vickie Goen is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.