Guest Post By: Rachel Preen
My husband is retired.
No more Marine Corps.
No more military.
Pretty much that is how my life felt for the first couple of months after my husband transitioned out of the military. I did not realize how much of a shift change in life it was going to be. I thought that it would be just like another PCS with more paperwork and less uniforms. Boy was I wrong! So before you break out your “forever home” Pinterest board, let us get setup first before we start remodeling the mudroom.
I am, by nature, a planner. I have the PCS binder, the important documents file, packing list, first day box list, to-do lists and a list of my lists. I am organized, I do not get flustered easily … and I still felt overwhelmed at times during transition.
Things I Wish I Knew Before My Husband Left the Military
Here are a few tips that I hope will save you some of the heartache that we experienced:
Make a to-do list, make it detailed and keep it fluid. I found that there are more things to think about and organize than with a ‘regular’ military move. In addition to a PCS-Binder-Important-documents folder, I also started a notebook about 6 months out. This notebook was an exact fit of what we needed because I could write in anything that I needed and the information was easy to find later. Each day we would have a to-do list, some days that was just 3 or 4 items and other days it was 20.
Set up an email address 6 months out dedicated to the upcoming move/retirement. This way all information related to the move would be in one place. No accidental deletions or emails getting lost in your inbox. Even if things do turn up in your regular email or in your spouse’s work email, it is easy to forward to the transition email.
Do as much as you can prior to separating, all the usual PCS to-do’s but with half a mind on the fact that, depending on your circumstances, you are making potentially long-term decisions with uncertainties of what is next. Things such as finding new doctors for your family (including the four-legged kind!) and having records sent and new patient appointments set up prior to moving is one thing off the to-do list that can make transition easier.
Take some time to decide on your housing arrangements. We did not buy a house straight out of the gate. We wanted to rent for a year or so and weigh our options. Even though we were moving back to my husband’s hometown, he had not lived here for 16 years so getting a feel for where we want to live, the schools, jobs, etc. was going to take time and would dictate where we would live eventually. Plus, we did not want to dive into buying a house only to find we wanted to move to another school district or it was next to a busy road. Again, you are making long-term decisions now versus the usual military family’s usual 3-5 year plan. There is no rush.
Check, recheck, double check and quadruple check paper work. Everything from my husband’s actual retirement packet, DD214, the TMO paperwork, travel claim, travel advance pay designation and SBP paper work was incorrect first go around. Once your spouse is separated, there is no single “admin shop” to visit to get these things corrected. Check everything, keep copies, and make sure that all of the correct people have what they need. Do not trust anyone else to do it, even if it is “their job”.
Check out your new state’s requirements – they vary by state – for things like driver’s licenses, registration and tags. Update your voter registration too.
Find people who can help BEFORE you need them. Prior to moving I found out the State of New Jersey has Veterans Service Officers. My husband contacted the one in the county where we would be living and his guidance and help has been invaluable particularly relating to the VA. Also, do a google search and look at veterans’ assistance organizations and community resources in the area that you are going. The VA also provides links to the various State Veterans Affairs Offices. Talk to the State Labor Department as well about unemployment options if you think you will need it. It is there, if you need it. Use it.
If your spouse is retiring, understand the benefits that come with retirement and USE them. One of our first excursions after moving was to our new base. We explored, ensuring we knew where all the services we would need were. So far, since retirement, we have used the commissary, base pharmacy, Space A, MWR, base legal, base lodging, and updated our ID’s. Do not underestimate the value of base access and the benefits that are associated with that. Find your local VA hospital and clinic and ensure your veteran gets registered at the VA, including getting their veteran I.D card. This includes both those who are retiring as well as separating.
Talk about financial decisions ahead of time so you aren’t caught off guard.
- Will you “cash in” leave or use it? What are the implications for either option?
- How much retirement pay/disability will you be receiving? Do you pay state taxes?
- Spouse Death Benefit (if your spouse retires): what are your options and what to select.
- Medical/Dental/Vision: What options do you have?
- SGLI/FGLI conversion options and deadlines.
- Update your wills …yes, this is a financial topic!
- Create a new budget.
- By the way, you do not get Dislocation Allowance (DLA) … sorry.
Take a break. We planned and saved so that after retirement we had a few months to play with. This break allowed us to unpack and adjust to our new normal. If you have the means, I would highly suggest it. He is currently being Mr. Mom before heading back to school (using his GI Bill!) in the fall. We even had enough time and flexibility to catch a Space A flight to Puerto Rico for spring break. It was great to decompress for a week and not deal with anything moving-retirement related.
Murphy’s Law will follow you long after the transition from the military. Be prepared that things will not always go as planned. Paperwork will be wrong, payments may be held up, the VA could not to call you back and the kids will get sick.
I am writing this to you 5 months into post-military life when we are finally able to breathe. My husband has his magic blue I.D card, mine is still brown, and the uniforms are in storage. No renovated mud room yet, but we are closer.
About the Blogger:
Rachel Preen is the spouse of a retired Marine and mom to a 6-year-old daughter.
Currently, she is going to school for Accounting and Computer Information Systems and working as an accounting intern keeps her busy. Originally, from New Zealand but living in New Jersey, she is quickly adjusting to the accents and Jersey hair!