Michael Scholl had just returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. He got engaged to his girlfriend, and started planning his separation from the military. Big changes were happening fast. Maybe a little too fast.
“It was harder than I expected to find a job,” said Scholl, who served four years as an Army infantry officer. “One of my biggest challenges was translating my military skills in a way that made sense to civilian employers.”
Thousands of highly-trained military personnel face an emotional and financial struggle as they transition to civilian life. Costs of living are higher, and necessities such as health insurance need to be replaced, yet there is fierce competition for jobs – especially the ones with attractive benefits.
“I knew I needed to get a job, but I didn’t want to settle for just any job,” said Scholl. “I wanted to do something with that gave me a sense of purpose and value.”
After several months of fruitless job-hunting, Scholl registered with RecruitMilitary and attended a job fair in Tampa. And there he met representatives from USAA, a Fortune 500 financial services organization serving the military community. He was hired and trained as an auto insurance adjuster, working with USAA members to resolve their claims.
“Because USAA is already so familiar with the military lifestyle, they understood how the skills I learned in the Army could be valuable to the company and its members,” said Scholl. This level of understanding is one reason that USAA received the Lee Anderson Veteran and Military Spouse Employment Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program in November 2013. Hiring Our Heroes bestows this award for “overall excellence in hiring and retaining veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses.”
Bridging the Gap
USAA’s service to the military community extends far beyond recruiting veterans to work there. USAA’s primary mission is to facilitate the financial security of its members by providing a wide range of financial services and products, and a big part of that effort is to help families make a smooth transition between the military and civilian worlds.
“The military does a great job with its own transition assistance programs, and we feel we can augment those efforts from the civilian side,” said Eric Engquist, another Army veteran who leads USAA’s Military Transitions team. “Our focus is on educating and guiding members toward being financially prepared for separation.”
USAA members can take advantage of several free tools and services as they put together their separation plan. These include an interactive Separation Checklist, which helps guide users through suggested preparations involving their job change, moving plans, savings and investments, insurance, education opportunities, and other aspects of the transition. To supplement the checklist, USAA offers a Separation Assessment Tool, which helps users research costs of living as a civilian and helps them determine whether their finances are ready for the change.
USAA also conducts transition workshops at major military installations, and employs a team of transition specialists who are on-call to answer questions and offer guidance at any time, and is the preferred credit card provider of RecruitMilitary.
Timing is Everything
Whether they are seeking a job at USAA or elsewhere, Engquist urges servicemembers to start planning their transition as early as possible. “Most military members underestimate how hard it is to separate,” he said. “The transition can be extremely stressful, and the best way to handle it is to make a thorough plan far in advance.”
Scholl agreed, but acknowledged that sometimes planning is easier said than done. “When I was in Afghanistan, there wasn’t time to think about that stuff. It had to wait until I got home,” he said. He started his planning process about six months before his separation date, but wishes he had even more time.
“You can’t assume it’s going to be easy. Take advantage of whatever resources are available, inside the military and externally,” he said. “If I had gone through RecruitMilitary right away, I probably would’ve had a job much sooner.”
With the rocky transition behind him, however, he is happy to be in a place where his service to the country is not just appreciated – it is embraced. “I grew up in the military and it’s a big part of who I am,” said Scholl, whose father served for 31 years. “I love working for USAA because I can maintain that connection, working with military families every day.”
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