What to know for veterans transitioning to civilian life
JANESVILLE—William Breyman has long hair and an even longer beard.
The 34-year-old Janesville native and Air Force veteran said he had “an epiphany” one morning when he was shaving and one of his four daughter's asked him, “Why are you shaving dad?”
Breyman was confused.
He remembered his daughter saying he wasn't in the military anymore. He didn't need to shave.
“But I've been doing this for so long because I just had to,” Breyman said. “Now I don't have to.
“I have all these choices in front of me.”
Breyman said civilian life is quite different than life in the military, where he spent 13 years after his Parker High School graduation in 2001. Being a civilian in many ways means being on your own, he said.
Veterans who have gone through the transition recently shared their advice to make sure those returning from service can more smoothly adjust to their new lives.
Not all veterans characterize their transition as difficult, but Breyman's was far from smooth.
He had no money. He was a single parent with four kids. He couldn't find affordable housing, so he moved everyone in with his parents. Breyman said he slept on a couch and his children at times were doubled or tripled up to a room.
When his medication was stolen out of his car, delays in paperwork got him stuck in bureaucracy unable to get what he needed, he said.
Breyman urged other veterans to more fully understand their benefits, the paperwork they need and whom to contact with questions. Instead of simply knowing to contact Veterans Affairs, he said veterans should find a specific person to reach.
He said the briefings he got in the military about post-service life were “generalized,” and he encouraged veterans to explicitly look at their state-specific benefits.
Veterans also need to make sure they have housing lined up, Breyman said. If they don't have something for themselves, he said they should look for family or friends to fall back on.
Breyman struggled for a year to get by. He was eventually able to connect with federal Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. He called it HUD-VASH and “the best thing in the world.”
Breyman qualified for HUD-VASH's assistance, and the group has been helping him pay his rent, he said. It helped him get back on his feet, so he could start living his life.
Finances is another area where some veterans may run into trouble, Breyman said. One small thing like a broken car can snowball into other problems when you don't have the money, he said.
There are different services that offer free financial planning for veterans, such as Chad J. Karl out of Janesville. Karl offers services for budgeting, evaluating retirement plans and investments.
Things are often taken care of for people in the military, Karl said. Breyman agreed, saying the civilian world is a lot more about people being on their own.
There's more support out there for veterans today than when Karl's grandfather returned from World War II or when his dad came back from Vietnam, he said.
Karl said he hopes veterans know services are out there. It doesn't hurt to pick up the phone and ask, he said.
Karl's office at 33 E. Racine St. can be reached at 608-758-2222.
Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag said in an email his transition after 25 years in the Army was smooth. He said veterans should be prepared for people who make assumptions about them, such as the belief that everyone suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He called on those people to challenge their assumptions about veterans.
Freitag stressed the importance of staying in touch and communicating with other veterans to continue “to share the common bond with brothers and sisters in arms.”
Sitting in the Veterans and Service Members Lounge at UW-Whitewater's Anderson Library, Breyman said he's grateful for the community of veterans he knows.
Talking to veterans comes easy to him, Breyman said.
He remembered a time he was speaking with another serviceman who was thinking about killing himself. After Breyman spoke with him, the man got the help he needed.
The man later told Breyman that speaking with him helped a lot. He felt comfortable, like Breyman really cared for him.
Breyman understands how much it helps to talk to someone, especially about difficult subjects, who understands what you're going through.
He is now a UW-Whitewater student who wants to become a social worker for veterans.
Breyman said if veterans need help, they should not be afraid to ask for it.
“If you need help, get it."