Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting Out

Since My G has 21 years in the Army, of course we've talked a lot about retirement.  We have our plans, which of course the Army has changed for us a half dozen times at least.  We are taking steps to make Plans A, B, and C work, as well.

We get asked a lot, "So, when do you retire?"

Well, it's complicated.  Every day, it seems, I hear a new story about someone getting out of the Army. And I hear stories of "what happens next".

Folks, it isn't good news.

One friend and her Soldier husband were forced to med board out from the Army after he sustained injuries. They had no backup plan, and had planned to stay in until he reached his 20. Now they are both trying to find work, find a home they can afford, and they feel stuck. From what I'm reading, there's a bit of panicky feeling, too.

One of My G's battle buddies was all set to retire, having hit his RCP (Retention Control Point). RCP essentially is the "get promoted or get out" point that the Army sets, and he hadn't reached the next promotion point when the Army thought he should have. Thankfully, he was able to take retirement. During the retirement health assessment, they did a body scan and found that he has a form of cancer that is becoming more and more common among Soldiers who have deployed. So instead of going through simple retirement, he underwent chemo, and now radiation, and later a full medical retirement.  He's still able to retire, but the Army has exacted a pretty high price from him and his wife, both physically and emotionally.

I know of a Soldier who was dealt some terrible back injuries, healed, fought the Army for proper treatment and the correct surgery, and now is getting med-boarded out of the Army because he can't properly run and has other health issues. My friend, his wife, has put in for any and every job that she is qualified for, all across the United States, because she knows they may have to rely on her income for a period of time after this process is over. So far, nothing. This is despite many of the applications coming back, saying she is qualified.

My own battle buddy says that her husband didn't make the promotion list this time around, and they are gearing up for major changes with the Army and in their lives. They were once caught without a backup plan, many years ago, and they will not do so again. Still, there is a tinge of worry and fear -- the world is an uncertain place for a veteran, even one with 20 years under his belt.

Getting out is scary, right now. We hear every day that the economy is getting better, that jobs are easier to find, that people are getting back to work, that we can afford to keep a roof over our heads.  We hear that the Dow is so high, it must be great! We hear that there are jobs that are open, and available.

(We even, sometimes, hear about companies that hire veterans specifically to help them once their Army time is done. I pray, when it is our time to get out, that we will all have found a safety net and a job.)

Not one of these Soldiers, nor their families, are asking for handouts. They want to work, and they have all pushed through incredible odds already. But I think it's time we talk about preparing our Soldiers better for "getting out". We need to talk about fixing the programs that help them transition from Soldier life to civilian life. I hear that this program works really well for the Soldiers who put in 4 or 8 years of their lives and then want to go back to school or work outside the Army. But these programs are failing the Soldiers who have given the most time and lifeblood

I think it's time we talk about the Soldiers who have put in the most time, and the deepest commitment. I think it's time we figure out a better way to serve them. Because these Soldiers are often the ones who know the most about their jobs and their installations, they are also often held back from properly taking part in transition programs because their loss will be felt so deeply. But at the same time, these are the very Soldiers who need the programs the most, and the units owe it to them to commit to making sure their Soldier-to-civilian transformation is the smoothest it can be.

So, while it's not time for us to be getting out, it is definitely our time to plan for it. And make a Plan B. And C. Or more.

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