When he retired from the Marine Corps in May and became a manager for a defense contractor, Col. Mark Desens knew he was entering new territory in many ways.

In corporate America, everything from resumes to management styles is different, he said. Personal finances, especially, require some homework.

"I'm really fortunate to have a pension, the (military retirees') Tricare health insurance and to land a job through the wife of a fellow officer," said Desens, 51. "But I still have a lot to sort through."

Desens is debating: Should I get a dental insurance policy? Will my salary make up for the allowances (such as housing) I received while in the service? How should I shelter my savings from taxes? Should I enroll in my employer's 401(k)? Should I get an individual retirement account too? Do I need long-term care insurance?

The learning curve is even greater for younger veterans, said Mechel Lashawn Glass, who co-wrote "The Veteran's Money Book" after shifting from a 17-year-old enlistee to a 22-year-old veteran to a 43-year-old professional financial counselor.

Though being in the service gave her maturity and confidence, Glass said, she was a "financial illiterate in debt" when she left.

"In the service, you're isolated," said Glass, a resident of Fayetteville, Georgia. "Especially if you live on a base, the government provides your housing, phone, utilities, vehicle, clothes, health care, insurance, even your gym. It gives you a steady paycheck. You come home, and you have to do all this yourself. You have to learn the financial basics that your non-veteran friends learned while you were gone."

Desens is ahead of younger veterans because he already owns a home and car. He knows his financial goals -- to retire and afford future health care expenses for himself and his wife.

The younger veterans, Glass said, usually need a "financial action plan," with attainable goals and advice from pros.

"A financial adviser can explain, for example, why you need to establish credit," Glass said. "It's not just about getting loans for a home or car, but also because nowadays, employers check your credit too."

Don't let pride get in the way, warned retired Lt. Col. John Phillips, 58, co-author of "Boots to Loafers: Finding Your New True North."

"Be proud of your service, but put it behind you," Phillips said. "You're a civilian now, and there's a huge support system out there to help you."

After retiring from the Army 15 years ago, Phillips landed a job as a finance director for Coca-Cola.

In their books, Phillips and Glass list state, federal and private groups that walk vets through financial planning. They define basic insurance terms that are gibberish to many vets, Phillips said, especially younger ones who counted on their parents to handle such matters before they enlisted.

Phillips also defines "benefits." "In the military, they're all the same -- vanilla -- but paid for," Phillips said. "In the service, you can take your base salary and basically double it when it comes to all the benefits you get. But in the civilian world, you pay for things like health care yourself. Veterans have to budget for that."

The authors urge vets without college degrees to take advantage of the GI Bill, which provides free tuition, plus living allowances.

"The post-9/11 GI Bill extends benefits to dependents too," Phillips said. "More and more, colleges and universities have veteran service centers. That's a good place to start asking questions."

Many groups pave the way for veterans who want to become homeowners. Through "VA loans," the Department of Veterans Affairs guarantees part of mortgages from private lenders, so vets get lower interest rates.

The Yellow Ribbon Registry Network (www.yrrn.org) matches donations to vets having a hard time making ends meet. Through USA Cares (usacares.org), donors help cover vets' lost wages.

USAA (usaa.com) is the AARP of vets' services, with discounts on insurance, credit cards, banking, travel and products from engagement rings to home-security systems.

State departments of veterans' services provide an array of financial perks. See their websites for details, because they vary from state to state.