Is your family leaving the services?
The transition period between the point of activating your departure from the Armed Forces to handing in your military ID card on your final day can be an unsettling time for any Service leaver, but what about the impact it has on your family? Luckily Veterans’ Gateway is on hand with advice and support. Read on to find out more …
Time for you to adjust
As much as you can try to mentally prepare for the fact you’ll no longer be in uniform, and will have the freedom to choose your ‘forever home’ and a new career on civvy street, there is no doubt that transition comes with its own uncertainties and an air of apprehension. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel nervous about what lies ahead in the next chapter of your life. This period of resettlement can be wide ranging too – anything from a couple of months to sometimes even years, depending on your reasons for leaving the Services. If you’ve been medically discharged or made redundant, the fact that that this wasn’t your choice can really impact your transition. It’s a hard pill to swallow and even those who ‘choose’ to leave can find that adjusting to life on civvy street takes time – a change whose difficulties can be exacerbated when it’s a decision that’s been made for you.
...but what about your family?
While you might long to wear ‘normal’ work clothes in an array of colours (anything but military green), and look forward to never having to stand in front of your Commanding Officer ever again, it’s important to try to understand the concerns and worries your family might be feeling. They may be experiencing sheer joy at the thought of being able to paint walls after years of the standard magnolia that’s adorned your quarters, and praising the fact they will never have to take down and rehang the infamous issued curtains ever again, but what do they need in terms of support when you finally drive off towards civvy street?
Veterans' Gateway is here to help
Veterans’ Gateway was launched in 2017 following Lord Ashcroft’s Veteran’s Transition review. With more than 2,000 military charities available to the Armed Forces community there was a clear need for a dedicated service to be the first point of contact for the Veteran community. Veterans’ Gateway represents a pathway to a full list of services, from housing to mental health services, from financial to employment advice. In fact the service will signpost a Veteran and their family to experts who can help with whatever they need.
Since the service launched, there have been more than 22,000 contacts made via the 24/7 helpline, website and social media. It’s even free to access from overseas so that any Veteran in any corner of the world can get the help they need. The areas that people have most needed support in have been finance, mental well-being and employment. A specialist team, which includes Veterans from across all three Services, are on hand 365 days a year. They are on hand not only to assist with signposting queries, but can also help a Veteran or family member in crisis.
Chris, one of the helpline advisors, joined the Royal Air Force in 1985 and served almost 10 years before being medically discharged. He admits it took him a lot of time to be able to settle back into civilian life, saying ‘I have been in the same position as a lot of people who are calling us here at Veterans’ Gateway, so I can use my personal experiences to point them in the right direction for the best help.’
Spotlight on support
This spring, Veterans’ Gateway is aiming to raise awareness of the support available to Veterans’ family members. A recent report, Lifting the Lid on Transition (see box), which was conducted by the three Forces Families Federations and funded by the Forces In Mind Trust (FiMT), found that 51% of those surveyed didn’t know where to go for welfare services, while a further 72% didn’t know where to go for spousal employment – two of the many aspects of transitioning that information and support is available on from Veterans’ Gateway.
Chief executive of the FiMT, Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock CBE, says that, ‘Within this important report there are many findings and recommendations that will be familiar to anyone with an interest in transitioning from military to civilian life. Taking a holistic approach, beginning planning as early as possible and involving the whole family are all aspects that have been identified as key to successful transition in a variety of other research projects, and we should therefore not be surprised. However, this is the first time such evidence has been collated from serving families themselves.’
The above-mentioned report – the first of its kind – has highlighted the need for better information and understanding of what life can be like after the Armed Forces so that both the Service leaver and their family members are prepared for the realities of civvy street. With this in mind, Veterans’ Gateway has come up with a simple way to ensure that Service leavers and their families are prepared for some of the challenges transitioning brings, in the form of ‘PLAN EARLY’, because, let’s face it, where would the military be without a good acronym?
Do your homework
The Veterans’ Gateway website at www.veteransgateway.org.uk can form the basis for some initial research into what you’ll need to do and how to go about it. There you’ll find various user guides on how to register for local health care and education, and advice on how to plan where to live and calculate how much it’ll cost you. There are online tick lists available so that your transition isn’t one big daunting to-do list that’s buried underneath your diary brimming with leaving drinks and mess dining-out nights. Instead, you’ll be able to take a new approach, talk to your family, involve them in the process and help them with their thoughts and concerns. Remember that the report highlighted that families want to be involved and to help with the Service leaver’s transition:
If anything could come out of this survey please let it be help and preparation for the whole family on what to expect and the emotional cycle of change that happens.
Everyone in the family is affected by transition ... the financial impact affected all of us.
Planning for peace of mind
While you were serving, and maybe away on deployment, knowing your family was settled and doing OK at home will have allowed you to do the best possible job, and this is no different when it comes to resettlement. Approaching resettlement like a new posting, involving your family and ensuring they are factored into plans will help in the long run. School places, health care and the local community will all need to be considered so that everyone’s needs are met. It’s easy to take certain elements of Service life for granted, with schools, nurseries, medical centres and even community groups all just moments away, but outside of the wire it’s these amenities that you need around you and choosing them can be challenging. If you team this with a new job that involves a new commute, suddenly everything that was on your doorstep is a little bit more difficult to access.
LIFTING THE LID ON TRANSITION
‘The project was a fascinating piece of work that allowed us a unique insight into families’ experiences of transition. We are so grateful to the families who took part in our case studies and who responded to the surveys, many of whom had already left the Services; they had nothing to gain for their own transition journeys by sharing their views, but were generous enough to tell us all about what challenges they’d faced and the support they needed, which has already proved beneficial to future families in transition.
‘We weren’t massively surprised by some of the research findings, but it was interesting to see that most of the evidence was relevant across all three Services.
‘It has been hugely rewarding to see so much of what we published in Lifting the Lid on Transition adopted by a number of organisations, including the MoD with the emerging Holistic Defence Transition Policy, and Veterans’ Gateway, which is taking some very practical, tangible steps to raise awareness of its services among families.’
Kate McCullough, transition liaison, Army Families Federation
Experts on hand to help
Veterans’ Gateway has a wealth of experts who can be available on the phone to talk about how to register for school places, medical and dental practices, and how to access support through local authorities. If you have any concerns over specialist support or services, the team at Veterans’ Gateway can assist you. There are more than 30 partner charities and organisations that Veterans and their families can be referred to so that they get the range of support they might need.
Referring again to Lifting the Lid on Transition, 66% of respondents to the survey thought their quality of life would be better after transition. Of course, the reality of life outside the wire will depend entirely on individual circumstances, but a good question to ask is ‘Do you have an idea of what your life might look like before you leave so that you can prepare yourself?’ Veterans’ Gateway has a number of tools that can help you with this, from budget calculators to information on the realities of renting or applying for a mortgage, so that you can make the best decisions possible.
Expect the unexpected
Finding a gym that doesn’t cost a large amount after a career of unlimited free gym membership may be on your priority list, but be prepared for the unexpected challenges ahead, like finding new social networks. One of the biggest changes will be not being surrounded by ‘instant military friends’ who are in the room next to you, in the bar and always on hand. Instead you’ll be finding your feet in a new community. Veterans’ Gateway can help identify breakfast clubs and other community focal points so you feel you have a go-to place where you can have banter with comrades and potentially even find a new gym buddy for when you’re continuing OP MASSIVE well into civvy street.
Turning transition into opportunity
Transition can feel like the biggest burst of ‘life admin’ you’ll ever experience, but planning early enough and breaking it down into steps will make it easier. Then you can begin to enjoy the opportunities that life can bring after a career in the military; you will definitely have some extraordinary dits to tell in the bar from your time serving, the only problem is, unfortunately, the drinks will never be as cheap as in the mess.
Veterans’ Gateway is available to you whether you’re on day one of your new life on civvy street or if, weeks, months or even years down the line, you are in need of help and advice. Whether there is a simple question you need answering, or you have a situation that may need specialist support, contact the service and our experts will do the rest.
To contact Veterans' Gateway
Call 0808 802 1212, visit www.veteransgateway.org.uk or text 81212
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