4 veterans on transition, career and community

Our Veteran Health Week webinar, Get moving in civilian life: tips from four recent veterans, featured:

  • Moderator: Catherine McGregor: Army and Airforce veteran; writer and broadcaster
  • Nicki Young: Navy veteran; EGM Veteran Services, RSL LifeCare
  • Lieutenant Colonel Nick De Bont: Commanding Officer, Sydney University Regiment; Chief Security Officer, Thales
  • Kieran Toohey: Army veteran; Peer and Community Adviser, Open Arms

On discharge

“A sort of grief cycle ensued,” said Kieran Toohey of his sudden shift into civilian life. Kieran, an Army veteran of 12 years, now works as a Peer and Community Adviser at Open Arms. The path to that point has not been simple. But unlike his discharge, which was not planned or on Kieran’s terms, recovery is a path he’s trodden with intention. 

Kieran credits mentors and a reframing of his ‘soldier’ mentality, sharing a story of a mentor who questioned why, if he was a soldier, he wasn’t behaving like one. 

“It clicked. He’s got me there – I do still identify as a soldier,” said Kieran. “But if I do identify as a soldier I’ve got work to do every day. And I still do, every day, some work on myself to stay away from that dark space.

“I know I’ll have dark days, but I think that we willingly put ourselves through basic training or RMC Duntroon, which is hard. If we can reframe it in a way, to fight this new battle […] well then we could and might, I hope that we see the veteran community coming out the other side in the right way.”

On transition

“I was having a transition, but I didn’t realise I was having a transition really until jumped into this job,” said Nicki Young – the job she’s referring to is EGM of Veteran Services and RSL LIfeCare, RSL NSW’s partner charity that provides housing, employment, wellbeing and DVA claim support to veterans across the state. “An opportunity presented itself and within three weeks I was gone, and I think that’s quite a common story for people in my situation.” 

In her new civilian role, delivering to defence and to the same commanding officer, Nicki quickly learnt that the civilian world doesn’t know anything about defence, what ADF personnel do and why, and that the defence world is unaware of the civilian knowledge gap. 

“The lesson in there for me is that, once you’re outside of defence, the language is really different,” Nicki said. “You might all be saying the same thing, but you don’t realise that we’re using a different language – it’s about trying to translate that once you transition out.”

On career-building

“You need to translate your military experience directly into the words that you see in the job advertisement,” advises Nick de Bont, who’s currently Commanding Officer of the Sydney University Regiment as well as Chief Security Officer at Thales. And a dad. He gets a lot done.

Nick’s interviewed and hired veterans directly, and strongly advises veterans looking for civilian roles to do their research into the role as a first step. 

“I have people say, ‘Well, I’m only an Infantry Corps Corporal – I don’t have those skills’. Well, I have hired an Infantry Corps Corporal before – he did all the research,” Nick said. “His resume and interview were absolutely amazing because he did that preparation to turn his military experience into very clear business outcomes – no acronyms.”

Find out about the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program, which is delivered by RSL LifeCare and available to veterans and their partners.

Sometimes that translation means leaving some of the details of military experience or training in a CV, but in an interview that experience can help you tell a broader story about your abilities. 

“It’s also really key to also let go of some of those things that you’re proud of, but aren’t relevant for the job. So it’s great that you’re parachute trained, but that’s not useful in financial services. So leave it off,” says Nick. 

“But the fear that you overcome to parachute out and motivate the people behind you? You can translate that story in an interview, showing your initiative, your leadership, your ability to negotiate with others under pressure and a whole range of core skills.” 

One top tip

Catherine asked each panelist for their one top tip. Lucky for us, the panel didn’t stop at one each.


  • Treat your transition out like a new posting – secure housing and employment, and recreate your familiar community, structure and routine. If you used the gym in the military, join a gym; if you played rugby, join the local rugby club. Join the RSL, connect with your community and, through them, find other ESO groups you can connect with socially. 
  • Value yourself, value the contribution that you made to your country’s safety and security, and value what you have to contribute now to your community – make that your new purpose and identity.


  • Network early, to research and understand what the best role is for you so you can be prepared for transition.
  • Take advantage of your exposure to people through the Army Reserves and contractors you might run into from the other government departments.


  • While we wait for a Royal Commission, while you wait for things to get done, what are you going to do? You have resources and it’s profound how powerful they are, if you can tap into it. 
  • You’re a warrior – get up, keep pushing for you and for your family and see yourself walking with your chest out and your head high again. Visualise that.

Finally, Catherine shared the advice that stood her in good stead on her second transition out. “I was very fortunate twice in my career to be a direct report to Sir Peter Cosgrove, who had a lovely pearl of wisdom,” Catherine said. “He said, ‘If you can, make your last day a good one, because you’ll probably carry it with you for the rest of your life’.

“If it is a bad one, there’s a way of actually making peace with that as well. It doesn’t have to be the miserable ghost at your table, living rent-free in your head for the rest of your life.”

RSL NSW’s Veteran Health Week webinar ‘Get moving in civilian life: tips from four recent veterans’ is now available on demand. Register and watch now by providing your name and email address below.

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