By Michelle Stephenson Galvez
All good things must end, including my military moments. This, dear readers, will be my last column, as my family makes the transition from an active duty life to a retired one. I'll always be connected to the military in some way, shape or form - from Air Force brat to soldier to Navy spouse, ombudsman and family support coordinator - but now I'll be joining the ranks of the retirees at the commissary we affectionately complain about. I'll need a new ID card and my identity needs a bit of a tweak too. It is especially bittersweet, but it's time for just about everything to change.
Instead of preparing for deployments, re-integrations and cross country moves, I'm researching veteran's benefits and retiree issues. I'm more addicted to www.turbotap.org than Facebook at this point, clicking through the DoD's official portal for military-to-civilian money, benefits and jobs.
After many years of following him following orders and putting the needs of the Navy first, our whole family is suddenly faced with an overwhelming array of choices to make. Where to live, how to make a living and budgeting for benefits we've always taken for granted, are on the list of decisions to make once the retirement ceremony is planned.
After being ordered to move to 11 different places, we get to pick a place to live. Wherever we want. What a concept! So do we move to someone's hometown, where we were previously stationed, where the good jobs are or where the weather's great, a state where there is no state income tax or an area where there is a big military presence? Close our eyes and toss a dart at the map or simply move off base and stay where we are?
Once we chose where to live, it was time to discuss second career aspirations, take my husband suit shopping, craft a resume, send him to job fairs and spend our evenings trolling online job sites. Instead of thinking about evals, boards and advancement in an orderly fashion, my service member is filling out applications for the first time in 30 years and prepping for job interviews with prospective employers.
I'm going cross-eyed checking boxes to elect health care, dental plans, survivor benefits and life insurance plans. In return for my spouse's service we've benefitted throughout his career from all of that being very inexpensive and automatic. But retirees are asked to enroll in new plans and pay much higher premiums with a reduced income so reading the fine print, having conversations and adjusting the family budget has become very important.
My husband spent years in training for his military career, but he's only spent a week in class preparing for retirement and while spouses were welcome, I had to work and couldn't attend. The website has been invaluable, but by the end of next year the military's transition assistance program will improve and feature classes on healthcare, life insurance, disability, higher education, vocational training and home loans in class and one-on-one counseling sessions with service members and their spouses to formulate personalized plans and a 12-month budget after separation.
It is an emotional end of a family's era, but the military has certainly taught us to be resourceful, flexible and open to new opportunities, all of which will serve us well in the next chapter. Thank you for reading all these years and for sharing your own experiences and feedback with me! Fair winds and following seas dear reader.
Michelle Stephenson Galvez is a Navy spouse, mother of three, graduate student and government contractor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Tidewater Parent Magazine