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Prepping for ETS isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be miserable

Here are five simple steps you can take to prepare for ETS that will make the process feel easier.

5 Easy Steps to Prepare for ETS

You’ve reached the end of your military service. It happens to everyone eventually, even the general officers. Here are five ways to prepare yourself for the transition.

Leaving a unit is usually difficult... No matter how bad the experience was, if you’re a decent servicemember, you made some friends. Even toxic people usually leave a unit believing they made valuable connections.

There are all sorts of frustrating and time consuming tasks one has to clear post which means cleaning and turning in equipment at CIF (after tracking down the equipment you’re inevitably missing), attend farewell parties, get squared away with housing, and say goodbye to years of memories and experiences — not all of them pleasant, but all of them intense and unforgettable.

Take that and multiply it by 10 for ETS (“Expiration Term of Service”), which is you clearing your post plus you leaving the military. That means no more paycheck, no more food or quarters, no more health care. That means leaving an entire society of which you are a vital and tangible part.

Don’t worry, it happens to everyone, sooner or later!

Here are five simple ways you can prepare for ETS that will make everything about the process easier and less painful.

#1: Enroll in Veterans Affairs Through BDD

Whether you’re perfectly healthy or a broken-down wreck after years of service, the sooner you can get plugged into the VA, the better. It will simplify all sorts of benefits such as the VA home loan and GI Bill Benefits, and if it turns out you do have any service-connected disabilities, it can also mean a monthly tax-free check and medical assistance for injuries you sustained while serving in the military. The Benefits Delivery at Discharge program (BDD) means 180-90 days before your ETS, you can forward your service medical records to the VA, so that when you leave, you’ve been fast-tracked in the system.

You can finally stop lying to the medic and saying you’re fine.

#2: Have a Plan

Everyone’s going to tell you this. Your Platoon Sergeant, your Platoon Leader, your Company Commander, the First Sergeant, and everyone else in a position of responsibility. That can be a job lined up back home. It can be college, or graduate school. It can be a volunteering opportunity with an NGO.

The one thing it shouldn’t be is “I’ll figure it out.” Service encourages people to have a healthy self-esteem, and confidence that they can figure out the chaos of a given situation. That’s necessary in training and in combat, but can really waste some time and get separating service members into trouble in the civilian world.

Whatever it is you’re doing, it should be better than staying in the military. And staying in the military is almost always better than doing nothing. Have a plan!

Life is like Home Alone: better accomplished with a solid plan

#3: Save Some Dough

This isn’t for baking — this is money, as in, enough to last you between 3-6 months. As of December, 2023, the median number of weeks a person remained unemployed between jobs was about 9. Nine weeks of pounding the pavement, mailing resumes, hassling friends and relatives, and angling for some kind of work with medical coverage, retirement, and a steady paycheck. Take that number, double it, and that ought to be your emergency stash for when things don’t work out how you think they should.

You will need more money than you think when you leave the military.

#4: Know Where You’re Going

While this might feel like a corollary of “have a plan,” it’s actually its whole own matter for consideration. Moving home, to stay with your parents, stretch that savings account out? Moving in with a significant other, or bringing your spouse and family somewhere new? A lot of choices need to be made about where you’ll be before you know what you’ll be doing. And knowing you need to be at home or close to home (especially with sick or elderly family members) will help you make choices about what you’re doing. Don’t just jump into some new situation as though you’re moving duty stations. You’ll be setting yourself up for failure.

Just make sure you know which state, if you’re heading to Springfield.

#5: Network Ahead of Time

This is key. If you know where you’re going to be, and what you’ll be doing, get a head start on plugging yourself into a community. Join a VFW (veterans of Foreign Wars) or American Legion post. If you’re going to school, there are great organizations that will link you up with mentors for applying to school and being accepted thereto — and, once you’re accepted, a robust network of veterans at that school who’ll help you navigate its more difficult spaces. Put some of that work in up front, and you’ll find yourself hitting the ground running once you’re out of service and out of uniform.

You never know who’s going to end up being helpful after your service.

There’s no way to ETS clean — it’s never been done. In the history of the military nobody has ever gone from “in” to “out” without some kind of weird thing happening to trip you up. All you can do is prepare for the change, and stay flexible… ultimately, you can trust that like on missions, that planning and preparation will pay off.


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