Service member about to run.

Re-enlist, Reserves, or Transition? 4 Things to Consider

Maybe you're just ending your first tour of duty. Maybe you've fulfilled your obligation to your country. Now, you're at a crossroads — re-enlist, reserves, transition out? How do you know you're making the right call? 

This is going to affect your future, so think it through. Take stock, review your options. Here are four things you need to assess for your best decision:

What benefits will you have available?

Benefits differ, depending on whether you're separating, transitioning to the reserves or retiring. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers benefits briefings as part of your transition assistance. Here are some of the benefits you may be able to receive:

  • Transition assistance for active duty, Guard and reserve, wounded service members and more.
  • Educational and training opportunities
  • Home loans and/or housing assistance
  • Life insurance
  • Medical services can be accessed for up to two years after discharge for some service members. 
  • Commissary and exchange privileges are available for retirees, National Guardsmen and reservists. 

If you've been injured during service, you may receive extra care and support. Check this list for more on VA benefits and transition assistance.

Living costs outside the military

Civilian life has its expenses and its tradeoffs. Example: No more basic allowance for housing, but you can move anywhere you want without orders. You won't have that steady military paycheck and job security, but you can go for that job you've always wanted. Here are some of most important costs to prepare for:

  • Housing will probably be your biggest monthly expense, but you may be entitled to VA home loans as well as benefits to help you make your final move.
  • Health care. Veterans who aren't enrolled in VA health care will need health insurance. That can mean monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Continuing to serve through the National Guard or reserve could keep you covered by TRICARE Reserve Select. Retirees have coverage options through TRICARE. 
  • Saving for retirement. Setting aside some money every month for retirement is vital. Got a job on the horizon? Compare the employer's plan with the military's retirement plan. Check what your military retirement would look like here.

An Individual Transition Plan can help you nail down what you'll need to budget for in civilian life.

A job and income after service

Obviously critical. A good civilian job makes all the difference in a successful transition out of the military. You'll find lots of assistance and resources available — including some on this site — to help you line up a good job.

Civilian living versus military life

You're not just changing jobs or making a move — you're changing the way you live (and potentially the lives of everyone in your family). Sure you're used to change, but this is different. Be prepared.

  • You'll be leaving behind close friends. Workplace camaraderie will probably be different. So will job security. But on the other hand, no more orders. 
  • Some people choose to transition to the reserves. Learn more about that here.
  • Get with your family before you make your decision. Don't underestimate the impact transitioning will have on them. Listen to their concerns and opinions. Talk about how things would change.

The takeaway? Don't rush a decision to avoid less-than-ideal orders. At the same time, don't re-enlist just to avoid the uncertainty of leaving. If you're still undecided, attend pre-separation counseling through your installation's Transition Assistance Program office (available for spouses, too).

Whatever way you decide to go, once you've made your decision, be all in. You've done your homework and can move ahead with confidence.