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Pillars of Successful Transition - Models to help Service Members and their Families Prepare for the Military to Civilian Transition


By Jenny Rea, Ph.D.

While many separating Service members successfully adapt to civilian life, 40 to 75% describe some difficulties managing this major transition (Castro & Kintzle, 2017; Zoli, Maury, & Fay, 2015). For instance, within the first year of transitioning to civilian life, Veterans face increased challenges with homelessness, family integration, employment, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse, all of which can increase the risk for suicide (VA, 2018). Extension professionals can play a vital role in helping military service members and families transition to civilian life.

To better support Service members and Veterans, the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Defense (DoD), and Homeland Security (DHS) partnered to create the VA Solid Start (VASS) program to focus resources and action to reduce suicide rates among this population. Specifically, the purpose of the VASS program is to “engage and connect with Veterans during this critical period to provide support and assistance to help ensure a successful transition to civilian life.”

Our OneOp colleagues, Military Caregiving, hosted a webinar focusing on the VASS program; including its purpose, related resources and information about the program, and how service providers working with Veterans might use it as they support the transition to civilian life. When you have a moment, watch the webinar to learn more!

One of the key components that were addressed in the webinar was the “Pillars of Successful Transition.” This is the framework (Figure 1) for which the VASS program is based, and what VASS representatives ask about as they talk with Veterans.

Research has shown that the pillars located within the inner circle are key for Veterans to attain a successful transition into civilian life. These include:

  • Manage Day-to-Day
  • Build Personal Connections
  • Find a Place to Live
  • Attend to Health and Wellness
  • Find Something to Do
  • Balance Finances

Extension programming addresses all of these topics. If you have a military installation near you, consider marketing your programs to transitioning service members and families.

All the things that contribute to the success of each pillar are then located on the outer circle, such as finding employment, building assets, and creating a healthy lifestyle. For example, if a Veteran is experiencing challenges with mental health, the VASS representative will provide them with resources (e.g., referral to a trained mental health counselor) to help them attend to their health and wellness.

As you work with Service members, Veterans, and their families, consider incorporating the pillars mentioned above. Although this framework was designed specifically to meet the needs of Service members and Veterans during the transition from military to civilian life, these components can likely be applied to various points or outcomes (e.g., general well-being, health) within a Service member and their family's life. To better support this population and ensure they can adapt to various transitions successfully, will likely involve planning ahead and preparation. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Additional Resources

  • Separation/Transition resources and programs through MilitaryOneSource


  • Castro, C. A., & Kintzle, S. (2017). The state of the American military veteran: The San Francisco veterans study. Retrieved from 
  • VA (2018). National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide, 2018-2028. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. June 2018.
  • Whitworth, J., Smet, B., & Anderson, B. (2020). Reconceptualizing the U.S. military’s Transition Assistance Program: The Success in Transition Model. Journal of Veterans Studies, 6(1), pp. 25–35. DOI:
  • Zoli, C., Maury, R., & Fay, D. (2015). Missing perspectives: Service members’ transition from service to civilian life—data-driven research to enact the promise of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Syracuse University. Retrieved from

This post was written by Jenny Rea, Ph.D., military spouse, and mom of four kiddos under five years. Jenny consults with OneOp’s Family Transitions team to provide free and open-access multidisciplinary professional development resources for providers serving military families. You may find more blogs, podcasts, and webinars from Family Transitions. We invite you to engage with Family Transitions on Twitter @OneOpFTand with OneOp on Facebook.

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