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Military Retirement

Flickr [Naval Surface Warriors by MC3 (AW/SW) Christine Walker-Singh, January 23, 2008, CCO]

By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

We have all experienced some sort of change in our lives. Whether the change is big or small, there will likely be some emotional component to that change. For military service members and their families, retirement from the military can be a rather big change that can come with some pretty big emotions. When we civilian folks hear the word retirement, we often picture rest and relaxation, travel and fun. But, when military personnel and their families hear the same word, they may picture something very different- moving, job hunting, financial changes, and burden. Below is a list of changes that may be experienced by retiring service members and their families. As you read them, think about the emotional toll that each of these changes can take on a person and a family.

  • A New Job (or Career) – According to a report from Department of Defense published in 2012, the average age of retirees including reserve retired was 49 year old. For the majority of people retiring at the age of 49, this would mean a job or career change rather than an end to working. There is a possibility that the job held in the service does not have a “match” in the civilian world. This may force a retired service member to choose a new career path. The stress of finding a new job can be hard enough, but searching for a new career can offer even more challenges (ie, going back to school, attempting to find a new interest in work, etc).
  • Loss of a Support System- A unique feature of the military is the comradery and family-like dynamic that it offers to its service members and their families. While many families and service members continue to stay in touch after retirement, that same closeness and connection might be lost over time or decrease in intensity as a result of the separation. The service member may find that the their colleagues in the civilian world are not quite as supportive or understanding as those in the service.
  • Change in Financial Status- There may be a shift in finances after retirement. This shift could be temporary or it could be permanent. The shift could result in a move, cutting back on extracurricular family activities, etc.
  • Change in Location- Many families may move out of military housing or to different cities, states, and locations altogether. Whether the move is across country or just across town, moving can be stressful. Additionally, there may need to be a change in school locations for children, which can also add stress to a family.

The list of changes above, of course, is just a very small one that military personnel and their families experience through retirement. When working with military families around retirement, remember that all families will not experience the same emotions associated with each change. While some families may find a change in location to be highly stressful, other families may find joy in the fact that they will now have an opportunity to be in a consistent place for a longer period of time. Yes, the changes listed above can be unique to military families experiencing retirement, but always keep in mind that each family is unique. Consider the changes associated with the transition from the military into the civilian world and the emotions that can come with those, but don’t let that be the only guide in your work with these families. As always, let them guide you and tell you what struggles they are experiencing.

If  you would like to learn more about military retirement from an emotional, transitional, and financial standpoint, join us for a two-part series entitled Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families Part I and Part 2.

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the social media and programming specialist for the OneOp Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about OneOp Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.