Military service can be difficult and dangerous but the military trains its members to be in physical and mental shape to overcome all obstacles. For many veterans the transition to civilian life is more difficult and stressful than even combat situations for which the service member is highly trained. In the military a service member commonly works and lives with those assigned to accomplish the same set of tasks. In the transition to civilian life the veteran too often finds themself alone and isolated when confronting problems for which they have not received adequate training. These situations can be highly stressful. Thus veteran mental health during the transition to civilian life is an important issue.
Transition to Civilian Life for Vets With Disabilities
Making the transition from military service to a civilian life be full of pitfalls for any veteran but it can be especially difficult for those with service-connected disabilities. This has been an issue ever since men and women started coming back home from war. A study reported years ago in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research looked at vets both before and after release from military service. The study specifically looked at self-assessed well-being, mental health, and substance use/abuse. The researchers sought to compare what veterans experienced with norms within the civilian population.
The study participants were 229 veterans, pre and post discharge from service. All had service-connected disabilities. For mental health, depression, life satisfaction, PTSD, and financial distress these veterans came out worse than the general population. Forty-two percent had received prescriptions for opioid medications versus a current rate of 19% for the general population. When compared to earlier times veterans have more trouble adjusting with roughly sixty percent of vets reporting trouble making the adjustment to civilian life versus roughly twenty-five percent from the World War II and Korean War era. A third of post 9/11 vets report financial difficulties which is about twice the rate of pre-9/11 veterans.
Difficulty Finding Post-Service Employment
Service members always have a job and “go to work” every day. A huge problem for many vets is finding work in the civilian world. It is demoralizing when they go from interview to interview and are rejected. These experiences commonly lead to a lower sense of self-esteem and depression. Unfortunately, there can then be a downward spiral of reduced motivation to seek employment due to repeated rejection. Outside the reported study researchers see the same set of problems on a wider scale. Another study of 9,000 newly released vets showed that over half were contending with chronic physical complaints and a third with mental health conditions ranging from problems sleeping, anxiety, and depression to debilitating PTSD. Along with this picture the number of vets applying for service-connected disability has been increasing.
Transition to Civilian Life and Suicide Risk
When a veteran leaves military service we would like to think that they receive the thanks and support of a grateful nation. This is generally not the case. A sad fact is that suicide risk goes up with transition to civilian life. This is because of the issues of veteran mental health during the transition to civilian life. Thus transition issues are not just about getting a job, making money, getting used to a different routine or not being nervous or depressed. These are issues of life and death. Factors that made the risk of suicide worse include active duty versus reserve assignment, army or marines versus air force, time since discharge, age of veteran (age 17-19 had a four and a half times higher risk), and time in service (shorted time in service was related to a higher suicide risk on discharge).
At No Fallen Heroes we are dedicated to eliminating veteran suicide which starts with awareness of the problem. We invite you to join us in our task.