“Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. If you are one of the 600,000 people in Australia that is a veteran of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), you can add transition to that saying. It is inevitable that everyone that joins the ADF – be it Army, Navy, or Air Force – will transition out of service at some stage in their career. So why don’t we as individuals plan for this inevitable event?

For many, the decision to transition from the ADF is a choice made as a reaction to their current workplace environment. For others, it is the culmination of completing the career goals that they have set themselves. For some unlucky few, it is because they have been assessed as not being able to perform their core role. For whatever reason, it is clear that supporting ourselves through our transition back into civilian life is not something that we as individuals do well.

To set the scene early, transition support is something that is available to all members even before they identify that they want to separate from their service role. Since early 2021, courses such as resume writing, interviewing skills, and job coaching have been available for members to access even before filling out their transition paperwork. However, due to the lack of knowledge around these services (both at the individual and the junior command level), they are not being used to their full potential.

Often a member that has identified their intent to separate waits until as little as 28 days before their transition date to explore what is available to them. They do not have knowledge of what is available to them to upskill and prepare to re-enter the civilian employment sector. For many who may have enlisted at the ages of 17 or 18, this will be the first time that they will experience an environment that does not provide support in everyday life. Support such as medical treatment, access to housing, food availability, and – believe it or not – direct tasks and timings from a supervisor. If a member has not prepared themselves for this change, the culture shock can be significant.

As an individual deciding to transition, there is often a desire to separate as quickly as possible. Some might have organised employment and fast tracked their separation over 28 days. Other members reverse engineer their initial period of service and submit their intent to separate three months out from their return of service obligation.

For very few, they decide that it is time to leave after completing 25+ years of service. A large percentage of these members will face the same common challenges in the first two years following their separation from service. These include loss of purpose or belonging, difficulty retaining civilian employment, and navigating day to day challenges that used to be handled by the ADF on their behalf. There could be an argument that some members may even have developed a dependency on the ADF.

So how do we plan for this inevitable event? In the first instance, we need to acknowledge that as individuals we need to take ownership of our separation. There are a lot of action items that need to be ticked off before your transition can actually be affected. These include Separation Health Exams, Separation Dental Exams, Transition Appointments, request for copies of service and medical records, Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) claims, transfer of medically related treatments to civilian practitioners, and removal administration to your nominated separating location. These are just a few of the items that require attention. As you can appreciate, not all of this can be completed in 28 days. To use DVA as an example, there currently exists an approximate backlog of 18 months of claims that they are working through.

For a lot of the administration that is required to support the separation process there exist avenues that can be accessed during your career – even when you have no intent to separate. Planning for your separation in the years prior to you actually transitioning allows you to be better educated and therefore better prepared for success outside of the ADF.

Every individual must invest now in their knowledge of what is available to them and how they can access it. Approximately 13% of the ADF workforce separate from service each year, and many of these people have not invested in a sound transition plan. Everyone has volunteered to serve their country, yet many lack the same enthusiasm to serve themselves. It is not a selfish act to plan for a smooth transition for yourself; in fact, it is a great display of initiative to plan that far ahead.

Just like picking up the phone and calling the recruiting office with the hope of joining the ADF, everyone must take the initiative and plan for their transition – whether it be in four weeks, four months, or four years. There is phenomenal support that can be accessed by members, but this will not be available unless you engage with the people that are employed to facilitate that support for you.

We must plan to exploit every opportunity that is made available to us while serving as well as when planning to transition. “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes… and transition!

Below is a list of helpful hyperlinks that can assist in building your knowledge for transition: