Let me start this by saying everyone obviously has a different story and mindset when they are separating from the military, has different requirements for their separation, and goals. Because of this I am only providing information very specific to my story as an O-3, involuntarily separated member at 10 years (well really 9 years 7 months) with a 6 month window to process out of the military. Since finding out the news, I began immediately doing extensive research of the benefits and opportunities allotted to me because if I’m getting forced out, I at least want to ease the pain a little bit, ya know? Nobody wants to take it in the ass without being prepared.
So let’s start at the 6 month mark. This is how long I had to get everything in order because of the requirements.
1. USAA SEPARATION CHECKLIST. Do you per chance bank with USAA? If you don’t you should have been, but that is neither here nor there at this point. A good starting point is their Separation Checklist. Conveniently the template starts at 6 months. This includes all kinds of information with the provided links that you may not have been thinking about. You can add your own tasks, which is a plus so you can view everything in one list and you can add it to complete for a certain time frame, which was helpful. You can easily add and track tasks with the other things that you are doing.
2. GTPS CLASS. This is a requirement mandated by congress, so once you find out you are planning to separate from the military you should sign up for this class promptly. When I went through it I was still at the 5 month mark, but some people would be out of the military in 3 weeks from the date they finished the class. In my opinion, 3 weeks does not give a lot of time to go through and process some of the information given. Although I did not find the Department of Labor 3 day workshop to be helpful to my specific case, there were a lot of things I found out about and researched on my own to get more information.
3. ONWARD TO OPPORTUNITY O2O. This is something that is available to active duty members within 180 days of separation, spouses, and veterans with an honorable discharge. If your field was Information Technology (IT), Human Resources (HR) or you would like to get the business Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate, <–my choice, then this is a VERY good opportunity to do that. The 6 month license to complete the PMP certificate is $3500 and the test for the certificate costs another $500+. Through O2O, this would be at no cost to you. They don’t use money from your GI bill, they don’t charge you any money, and this can benefit your future. I am currently enrolled in the PMP program as I am well within 180 days of separation, but this is a certificate that is recognized globally. An added fact I learned in the workshop is that you can test for any of the IT tests, including the hardest most expensive one, so if you did not have the opportunity previously, consider it now.
4. HIRE FOR HEROS. With O2O, you also have the opportunity to do some online courses and get help through the job searching process with Hire for Heros. I have also signed up for their services and have been getting help through both platforms, and you can too. P.S. they also have information on how to write your federal resume, which can be very beneficial.
5. MEDICAL RECORDS. As of March 2019, the Navy no longer gives you your medical records when you leave the military, which means you need to request a copy. This can take up to 21 days turn around time, so if you have the intention to file a VA claim, etc. you should plan for the time it takes. ALSO, medical and dental records are separate and therefore require you to go into both medical clinics to request copies. My advise is to do this as soon as you have decided you will be separating because these may come in handy throughout the process. **They are given to you on a CD and then you can put the files on your computer or print them out for other use. This CD can be updated if you order a copy and then end up going to medical later and need those files uploaded to the CD.
6. MEDICAL/DENTAL LAST MINUTE BITS AND BOBS. Think ahead. What should be done right now before you leave the military and maybe you won’t have direct access to healthcare and have to pay out of pocket once you are out. Did you want to get an IUD inserted for birth control purposes? Maybe get that crown on your tooth fixed that 3 dentists commented needed done (my case), or need to make sure you get all of your prescriptions refilled for the next couple months so you don’t have to go buy medicine the minute you get out. Are your vaccinations current? I updated all of this before my last day.
7. CONTINUED HEALTH CARE BENEFIT PROGRAM. The 18 month health care program for transitioning veterans. All of the info can be found here, as long as it is not outdated. You have to consider this prior to getting out as you only have a short window from the time you separate to apply and qualify for the benefits.
8. TRANSITION ASSISTANCE MANAGEMENT PLAN (TAMP). This is not applicable to everyone separating, but if you have been involuntarily separated, this will give you 6 months of free healthcare through Tricare. When I called Tricare to get more information about it, the woman told me that when you get your signed DD214 you can go and get an ID card that is similar to a dependent ID card, which gives you base privileges for another 2 years after separation. The code on your DD214 is what qualifies you for this, so work closely with your command admin to make sure that is correct so you don’t have to get it sorted after the fact, it would be very difficult. When you turn in your CAC card on the last day of active duty they will also make you the TAMP card which is good for base access for 2 years after separation in addition to the 6 months of healthcare, not a bad deal.
****If you are transitioning to the Reserves through the Career Transition Officer (CTO), you will get a CAC card once you affiliate, however, sometimes this takes 6+ months, depending on each situation. This card will allow you access to military bases, the gym, commissary, etc. so it is worth it to get the card made.
9. ENDORSED ORDERS WITH HOME OF RECORD (HOR) STAMP FOR HOUSING. I wish I would have understood this better. I didn’t, therefore, it was extremely painful when I was trying to schedule my House Hold Goods shipment, and they told me that they could not schedule anything without an endorsed set of orders. As soon as you get your separation orders you should have them sent to PSD and have them verify, stamp, and sign the orders with your home of record address so that housing can process it. This is required for your final move. I am moving from Hawaii, so really I can imagine any final destination in the U.S. will cost about the same as it will be to get it to Pennsylvania, but schematics.
**** FOR INVOLUNTARY SEPARATION MEMBERS. If you are separating and wish to locate somewhere other than your home of record because you receive a job offer or for other reasons, then you may be able to switch your home of record. I found this information which may benefit you, so you can do more research on it and contact the people who can give you better information.
10. HOUSE HOLD GOODS (HHG) VS. NON-TEMP STORAGE (NTS) VS. UNACCOMPANIED BAGGAGE (UB). With the house hold goods move you get some leniency, and you have to choose what works best for your situation. This is what I found out and is current as of 13 January 2019: With a HHG move you only get 90 days in transit storage with a max of one 90 day extension before you would have to start paying for storage. For NTS, which is what I have done, you can put your house hold goods (HHG) in non-temporary storage for up to a year with involuntary separation. Depending on the case by case basis, this can be extended (if you are using the GI bill and are in school, are on orders with the Reserves, etc.) UB obvi goes straight to your designation address. You have up to 180 days from the date of separation to schedule your move before you will not be able to any longer. With NTS they will give you a release form so when you are ready to move somewhere you just fill out the form and submit it. Pretty easy.
11. VERIFICATION OF MILITARY SERVICE AND TRAINING (VMET) / JOINT SERVICE TRANSCRIPT (JST). Both of these can be found on My Navy Portal. Use your CAC to login and download and print them out. This also includes your FLTMPS, OSR, PSR, and other information and documents. This was a life saver to me during my transition to the reserves when pretty much everything in my record was not showing up in my documentation. I used my AD paperwork to get everything updated. I don’t know what I would have done without it. The VMET basically takes every job you have had in the military and writes it out in civilian terms for help updating and writing your resume, and the JST actually shows you which classes can be counted for credit, how many credits, and where. You should know this.
12. EBENIFITS/MILITARY ONE SOURCE. Become familiar with the ebenefits site which will be where you get all of your information once you no longer have a credit card. Check your GI Bill information and education benefits. In addition, Military One Source is something you will have access to for one year after you get out of the military. This is great for things like filing taxes. I have been using military one source since I got into the military to file my taxes for free through H&R block. You will have access to this for 1 year after you separate which is helpful.
13. INVOLUNTARY SEPARATION PAY. If you are involuntarily separated form the military, then you may be entitled to separation pay which is figured out based on a formula that includes how long you have been in the military, some other fancy numbers and all that jazz. If you qualify for separation pay you are required to sign a page 13 for either Reservist duty (SELRES) or Ready reserve (IRR) with a 3 year commitment. This requires some separate research on its own for you to make your own decision, but this page 13 is required in order for you to receive the pay. Contact your command admin for more details.
14. VETERANS UNEMPLOYMENT (UCX). If you check the max monthly allotment per state in the U.S. you will see an average of $500-$700 per month. Veterans Unemployment is available per state and the allotments can be a bit higher and are based on the department of labor determinations which are a bit different than the state systems. This is very beneficial to military members who have separated and do not have a job lined up. This requires a copy of your DD214 showing honorable discharge and then to follow the states unemployment compensation requirements to receive the money. Here’s more information. P.S. you cannot submit for UCX until you are out of the military completely, so if you are still on terminal leave, then you must wait until your actual separation date.
15. LINKEDIN PREMIUM. Did you know that you can get a full year of Linkedin premium for free if you are active duty or a veteran? Linkedin premium costs over $100+ per month and is gives you access to job insights, courses that you can complete and receive badges for and overall can help aid you in the job searching process. Don’t miss out on this perk!
16. BOOK CAR SHIPMENT, FLIGHTS HOME, PET. Well duh. this is an important step and should be relatively easy, however sometimes you will run into problems. Figure out how you are going to get your stuff to your final destination. Start by submitting a MAC flight request, looking up the information for scheduling an appointment at the local Vehicle Processing Center (VPC), and figure out what’s happening with your pets. There is a time line of which you can use if you wanted to stay at your location for a certain time after you separate before moving back home (I think you have up to a year to move from your location but don’t quote me on this, it may have changed). Because I was leaving Hawaii with a bird, I found out I could only fly Delta because they were one of the few airlines that allowed a pet in cabin leaving Hawaii. This involved me changing my flight 4 times prior to departure because I did not understand this requirement and just kept thinking the pets in cabin limits were booked on the other flights. As always, do not wait until the last minute to take care of these things.
17. LEGAL SERVICES. All of your power of attorney’s, Will, Trust, up to date? Now is the time to take advantage of these free services through the Navy Legal Office. I was able to draft and sign my first Will with a JAG before separation and I’m really glad I sat down and thought about the tough questions.
18. LAST LES / SELLING BACK LEAVE. The last LES you will receive in the military will not be your final pay. In fact, it will show all 0’s for the allowances you usually receive. For the last LES, the Navy has a certain amount of time to pay you all of your final pay to include separation pay if you are receiving it, leave days you sold back if you chose to do that, your final paycheck, and any other allowances. PSD can tell you the amount you will be paid the week of your separation if you are curious to know. I went and checked before I flew home to make sure it was in line with what I was tracking.
***SELL BACK LEAVE DEBATE. I will just add this in here because I do think it merits a few minutes of time and thoughts for you to think about when you are separating form the military. As far as selling back your leave, I would say only do this if it fits into your situation. If you have the time, then you would definitely want to take advantage of terminal leave and those benefits. When I found out I was separating form the Navy, the Navy moved me to Hawaii 7 days later. This gave me less than 6 months to move in and out of an apartment, and wrap up all loose ends. I could not justify starting terminal leave at 4 months because my command was very supportive of my situation and allowed me plenty of time to take care of all of the things I needed to. If I was not leaving the island, then it made sense to me to just sell back all of my leave (48 days) in order to pay off the rest of my car loan, and leave the military with $0 debt. It is important for you to weigh the pros and cons of your particular situation when you are making these decisions and for you to choose what will work best for you.
19. TRAVEL HOME. You are still entitled to claim your travel home with the military. PSD Pearl Harbor offered a separation briefing the first Thursday of every month, which is where I found this information out and had many other questions I had answered. You are required to submit your travel claim after the fact to Millington, although, if you have a quorum with your PDS representatives then they can also submit for you. As an Example, you can claim taxis/uber you had to take to the airport, per diem for your flight home if it is over a certain number of hours, mileage one way from the Vehicle Processing Center to your house (for me I had to drive to Baltimore from Pittsburgh), tolls for the drive, and all of the allowed compensations to include per diem and mileage for driving cross country, and all that jazz. If you don’t have this paperwork and need it, send me an email on the contact tab and I will send it to you as you are entitled to this.
20. FINAL PAPERWORK / FINAL FITREP. When you separate from the military you must submit your final Fitrep to PSD even if it is an extension. On the final day of separation, I had to turn in all of my access badges and sign the security clearance release documentation and questionnaire. Once this was complete, I went and submitted my FITREP at PSD, turned in my ID card, and got my transition assistance ID card. Then that was it, everything was submitted and finished, I had done everything I could to ensure a proper separation from the military if that is even a thing, but I felt pretty good about everything when I was leaving so I think I did a few things right.
21. VA CLAIM. This dreaded thing. I say dreaded because it took me 4 months to even understand what I should be doing with this claim and how I should approach it. I have found out an extensive amount of information using the Veteran’s Law Blog, and I did purchase the How to File a VA Claim packet from their website. I am not affiliated with them in any way but I have found the author’s website to be helpful and he is an Army Veteran so he does know about this process. Most importantly, I learned (way too late I might add) that you can file a VA claim between 6 to 3 months of separation through a separate program, which will most likely result in a much faster determination from the VA as they had plenty of time to process your request prior to your separation. There are multiple ways to file a VA claim and I have chosen to upload all of my documents and requirements via the ebenefits website. One of the perks to this is that if you start a claim within one year of separation, then you will have a year to file your claim with the potential to receive back pay from the date of your separation. You will be able to read all of the information when you logon to ebenefits and fill out the first steps of the electronic paperwork. There is so much more to say on this topic alone, but I am not an expert so if you would like to discuss more in depth than leave a comment.
**Veteran’s Preference. Also something that I have learned through this process is that even if you submit a VA claim and receive 0% disability, this can be a good thing. First, because everything you submitted for is now long and you can refile a claim if any of your medical requests worsen, and also because you receive 5 point veterans preference when job searching, which can be very helpful when looking for jobs with the federal government.
22. RESERVER AFFILIATON. Now this is a whole other can of worms that is too complex for this post. I decided to affiliate with the FAO Reserves as I was transitioning off of active duty, and have learned a WHOLE LOT about this process and what happens mostly from on the job training. More to follow.
Basically, I am writing this to help you make the most of your military separation. I looked up multiple posts to help me with the process and I was able to compile different parts of each one to work for me, but I was lacking the actual information about how to go through the process and what to think about during the time line. the USAA separation checklist was very helpful, and having been separated for 15 days from the military, the last item on my checklist is my VA claim. I have been finishing up the paperwork for this, otherwise everything else I needed to do was completed prior to my separation date. This guide is meant to be helpful but I also know that things change frequently so if you stumble upon this post and have an update, please submit it in the comments below so everyone can benefit.