YOUR soldier’s final day in uniform is life-changing for the whole family. With a deadline to find a new job, home and school on civvy street, it pays not to leave your planning until the last minute, writes Jill Misson.
“It is your responsibility, and nobody is going to do it for you, so you have to get a grip and get on with it,” advised Ray Lock, chief executive of Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) which was founded in 2012 to improve the transition of military personnel and their families into the civilian world.
A tri-Service project, funded by FiMT, has created transition liaison roles at the Army, Naval and RAF Families Federations, as AFF’s Kate McCullough explained: “The role of the family in the transition process is vital.
“The Armed Forces want to be sure that they are offering families the right support, so we are gathering evidence of what they experience so that recommendations can be made.”
Soldiers with a stable family are more likely to make a successful transition, according to a 2013 FiMT study. Ray Lock elaborated: “Spouses and family members are often much more clued up on civvy street with things like access to GPs and schooling.
“There is good evidence that if a spouse or partner is in employment, the Service leaver is likely to have a better transition, so we are funding an evaluation of the MOD’s Spousal Employment Support Programme.”
Facing up to the facts
As a brigade transition officer, Maj Jodie Kennedy-Smith agrees that spouses and partners play an important role. She said: “Soldiers don’t always find it easy to prioritise time for their resettlement as they juggle work commitments, so often it is the partner who is the driving force.”
Families are welcome to attend transition fairs to gather information. Maj Kennedy-Smith suggested: “The HARDFACTS assessment tool is good for a family to sit down and go through together to find out whether they are in a good position to leave.”
HARDFACTS can be found via your soldier’s work.
If you’re weighing up whether to stay in the Army, it is worth considering your cashflow. Maj Kennedy-Smith said: “If a family has debt it is far better to clear this before leaving.
“Every soldier should consider their retention bonuses, resettlement grants and engage with the Forces Pension Society to understand the impact of their departure on their pension.”
Service leavers should also factor in repayment of Long Service Advance of Pay and Forces Help to Buy loans. You can find information and interactive calculators to help you get your finances in order on the MoneyForce website.
A roof over your head
When you consider your family’s new home, you need to budget for expected costs and unforeseen expenses. The last time you pack up your SFA, you foot the bill for removals.
“It was a huge culture shock leaving the safety net of our military community,” recalled Laura Lewin, AFF’s Employment, Training, Allowances & Money Specialist. “I saved for costs that crop up like when the boiler started playing up just as we moved into our own house.
“I contacted the local authority to discuss council tax and water rates as we had never had to pay them before. After all the years of my husband being away, we also put money aside for a lovely family skiing holiday.”
One property myth that needs to be quashed is that Army families are entitled to social housing when they leave – which, according to Kate McCullough, ‘sadly isn’t the case’.
The Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) can provide information on your options via family briefs, but Alison Shimmens confirmed that while local authorities are encouraged to take the situation of Service personnel into account, they only have a statutory obligation to house those who are homeless.
She added: “The JSHAO manages a referral scheme, where housing providers offer vacant properties to Service leavers who would otherwise not necessarily be deemed a high-enough priority by a local authority, but these are becoming scarcer as social housing availability diminishes.”
Impact on children
Your new local authority is also the point of contact for school applications. Kate McCullough said: “It is important to consider the impact of leaving the Army community on children, especially if they have only lived on a patch and attended a school with lots of other Service children.”
Debi Reynolds’ daughter Erin was five when they relocated to Southampton. She said: “We had some ‘acting out’ after the move and clingy behaviour but she did so well with the transition having only ever known our Aldershot home and school.
“She still misses her friends terribly. It’s a stressful time for the whole family and tensions can run high. Be kind to each other.”
You may feel isolated living off-patch where you don’t know your neighbours. Joining groups with a military connection can help, from The Royal British Legion to the Military Wives Choir, as Debi explained: “I was lucky to have a friend in an Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club, which has been invaluable as I was feeling a little lost, but networking helped me with job hunting and a sense of belonging.”
Founder Dereck Hardman said: “It can be akin to being dropped into an alien environment without recognisable landmarks.”
Annabel Ingram, whose husband left the Army in October 2017, agreed. “We’re a sporty family, so one of our priorities was to find a location which had good access to clubs and facilities,” she said. “This helped us to settle because the boys could meet children with similar interests and we had parents to chat to. Two years on and many of these families have become our friends.”
Making the most of resettlement
Job hunting can be daunting for your soldier after an Army career so it is worth taking advantage of the resettlement package. Army spouse Catherine Adams said: “Encourage your soldier to get on the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) workshop as early as possible. It broadened my soldier’s work horizons by making him realise what amazing life skills the Army had given him.”
The CTP’s Clare Preece said: “Many leaving may not have created a CV or attended a job interview before so one of our objectives is to equip your soldier with life-long application skills.”
Communication is crucial according to Stuart Tootal, head of the Barclays Armed Forces Transition, Employment & Resettlement Programme.
He said: “A misunderstanding of military experience causes too many employers to write it off as being irrelevant, when it should be seen as a real asset.”
British Forces Resettlement Services runs careers fairs and an online jobs board for veterans and spouses. Dominic Hamberg said: “We champion recruiting from the Armed Forces community as they have the skills, attributes and ethics that organisations are crying out for.”
Mal Robinson, editor of resettlement magazine Pathfinder, echoed those sentiments. He said: “There is a ‘can do’ attitude instilled into Service personnel and the self-determination to see a job through to the end. Employers love this.”
Army families’ experiences of transition vary hugely and Kate McCullough is recording her findings so that changes can be made for the better.
She said: “It seems to be that the more a family plans for transition, the smoother their ride has been – but of course there are exceptions.”
Maj Kennedy-Smith urged Service leavers to face their fears. She said: “Leaving the Army is a big deal. It’s ok to feel apprehensive. Before a deployment we research the environment we are going into and adjust our training and skills, the same can be said for resettlement. Transition takes planning, research and commitment but the majority are successful despite a few bumps along the way.”
gov.uk (Search ‘Service leavers’ guide’ or ‘JSHAO’)
Veterans UK helpline (Freephone: 0808 191 4218; Overseas: +44 1253 866 043)
AFF Transition Liaison (email email@example.com)
Your soldier can speak to their brigade transition officer