1) Get a Reserve ID card:
Many veterans don’t know that while in the IRR they are eligible to obtain a Reservist ID card from any Army ID card facility. Be sure to call ahead and find out what documents you will need to bring, however a Member-4 DD214 should be sufficient in most cases. I cannot tell you how much money having this card has saved me over the last four years. Use your military discount, use it often, you earned it. Military discounts are available virtually everywhere you go, restaurants, theme parks, hotels, movie theaters, I was even able to procure a military discount on one of my apartment leases.
2) If you apply for disability, use a veteran’s advocacy group:
The VA disability process can be a nightmare. Currently there are close to a million veterans waiting for a decision related to their disability claim. However, a vast percentage of those waiting the longest for a decision are appeals. It is extremely important to make sure you are as thorough as possible in your initial disability filing. I highly recommend outsourcing as much of this process as possible. In my case, I made an appointment with my local Vet Center. Although the wait for an appointment was two months, the Vet Center filled out my claim in it’s entirety, all I had to do was drop it in the mail. Other options for assistance in this process include the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, both are excellent places for help with disability claims.
3) Don’t drop your morning routine:
Now that you’ve broken free of reflector belts and overbearing platoon sergeants, it may be tempting to scrap physical training for just about any other activity. However the structure of working out every morning will pay back dividends both physically and mentally. If you served in combat, chances are you may end up battling some level of PTSD. Studies have shown that exercise may be just as, if not more effective at treating depression that anything they will prescribe at the VA.
4) Share your experiences:
We live in a society where less than 1% of the population is typically serving on active duty in the military. That does not necessarily mean that the 99% are not interested in your stories or struggles, many are. Although not everyone will understand your experiences, it’s important to be able to articulate them to others as a fundamental force that has shaped your existence. Vocalizing your experiences will humanize these conflicts to individuals who may not be personally affected by them, it may also help spur their interest in veteran-related issues, many of which could use an infusion of public support (Example: the VA disability backlog).
5) Visit Arlington National Cemetery
Plan a trip to Arlington, I implore you, see it at least once in your lifetime. Take your time walking through the gardens of stone, let it’s simple yet expansive landscapes linger in your mind. Take it all in visually, read the careful etchings, and of course, bear witness to the changing of the guard.
There may be times during your transition to civilian life when you feel overwhelmed. You may feel powerless over your surroundings or hopeless about certain circumstances. When these thoughts begin to loom over your mind like storm clouds, remember those powder white markers in Arlington. Remember the parallel monuments of fallen brothers and sisters. Remember that in times of great peril they made the ultimate sacrifice. We cannot repay them, no gifts or tributes will return them to the living. However that does not mean we are without debt. The only appropriate tender is to live out our lives in remembrance of them. To experience each and every moment as borrowed time, to treasure the sanctity of human life and to cherish the relationships of those who love and support us.