Volume 4 Issue 2, 2018, pp. 28-36

Introduction: To date, investigations of Veterans’ transition to civilian life after military service have tended to focus on the experiences of those with mental or physical health difficulties or on employment challenges and homelessness. This study aimed to gain a deep understanding of Veterans’ transition to civilian life, the challenges they face, and the adaptive and maladaptive ways in which they manage them. Methods: A narrative approach was used to afford the Veterans an opportunity to share their experiences through their transition story. Six male Veterans residing in the Chicagoland area who had left the military between 1 and 12 years earlier were interviewed using a narrative approach. Results: Narrative analysis led to the emergence of three master narratives: narratives of the challenges, narratives of readiness, and narratives of continued military values. The narratives the Veterans shared highlighted not only the importance of practical readiness for transition but also the need for a fundamental addition to how Veteran transition is considered that includes psychological considerations of the impact on identity and the potential for existential crisis. Discussion: Appraising transition only in terms of measurable factors such as employment, living conditions, and health likely overlooks those experiencing psychological challenges and sub-clinical mental health difficulties. The proposed fundamental addition has implications for work with Veterans in various health care settings and for existing transition programs, including a consideration of the role of identity.

Introduction : À ce jour, les études sur la transition des vétérans de la vie militaire à la vie civile se concentraient surtout sur les expériences de ceux et celles vivant des troubles de santé mentale ou physique, ou sur les défis liés à l’emplois et aux sans domicile fixes. Cette étude cherche à développer la compréhension de la transition des vétérans de la vie militaire vers la vie civile, les défis qu’ils rencontrent et les stratégies d’adaptation, efficace ou moins efficace, qu’ils emploient. Méthode : Une approche narrative fut employée permettant aux vétérans de partager leurs expériences de transition à travers le récit qu’ils en ont fait. Six vétérans masculins habitant dans la région de Chicagoland et ayant quitté les forces armées depuis une période entre un et douze ans auparavant furent interviewés. Résultats : L’analyse narration a découvert l’existence de trois narrations principales. La narrative des défis; la narrative de la préparation; et la narrative de la poursuite des valeurs militaires après la libération. Les narratives partagées par les vétérans mettent en lumière l’importance de la préparation concrète à la transition, mais aussi le besoin fondamental de considérer les considérations psychologiques de l’impact que cette période a sur l’identité et le risque de crise existentielle. Discussion : Il est probable que la perception de la transition sous des angles purement quantifiables tels que le niveau d’emploi, les conditions de vie et la santé, n’offrent pas un regard sur les défis psychologiques vécus, ainsi que les problèmes de santé mentale subcliniques. L’ajout fondamental qui est proposé a des implications sur les façons de travailler avec les vétérans dans divers cadres de services médicaux ainsi que pour les programmes de transition afin d’inclure une considération pour le rôle qu’y joue l’identité.

Transition from military service to civilian life requires navigation of a series of adjustments, such as changing roles, reference groups, friendship networks, and identity.1 The military’s distinct social and cultural norms, time spent in combat zones, and time spent away from family, friends, and civilian society during service make adjustment to civilian life a complex process. A survey conducted with Veterans found that 33.3% of pre-9/11 and 60.5% of post-9/11 Veterans reported that adjustment to civilian life was difficult.2

For many, joining the military is synonymous with the transition to adulthood.3 Transition to adulthood through military service happens in a highly structured environment with the provision of medical care, guaranteed wages, housing, and educational benefits, which means that military personnel may be poorly equipped for adulthood in the unstructured civilian environment. Thus, an implicit theme is proposed that military service diminishes the development of some life skills required for independent civilian living.4

Military integration influences worldviews, values, and expectations and teaches subordination of the self to the team.4, 5 Military collectivism stands in stark contrast to the individualism of civilian society, in which self-improvement and individual success are prioritized.57 The collective nature and cohesion of military units means the military is like family.8 On return to civilian life, some Veterans find connecting with their biological families8 and finding comparable support in civilian society7 challenging.

Military culture is central to transition because adapting to civilian life requires the development of new cultural understanding and skills.9 Adapting communication style is key, but it is challenging for many Veterans.4 Mismatches in communication and being misunderstood can lead to feelings of invalidation and challenges with social relationships, identity, belongingness, and self-esteem.4, 7 Exit from military service arguably has an impact on social identity;10 Veterans’ sense of who they are may be in turmoil because they no longer belong to their previous group (the military) and must establish a place in a new social group. This may be challenging because of a reported cultural gap, whereby Veterans feel disconnected from civilians who do not understand their experiences and show a lack of respect for their service.5 Veterans may experience a loss of purpose and meaning because former markers of status and recognition no longer hold.7, 8 Changes in status and purpose may have a negative impact on self-esteem and lead to a “crisis in identity.”5(p. 171) Connecting with other Veterans, however, assists many Veterans in managing these transition challenges.9 Connection with other Veterans provides practical support and a space to share culture through mutual communication, values, and meaning.9

Military transition research tends to use an injury model,11 focusing on Veterans exposed to combat who are unemployed, are homeless, or have service-related health problems.4 An injury model may create a public misconception that most Veterans have service-related problems,4 which may make transitions more challenging. Using an injury model precludes the opportunity to learn of the adaptive ways in which most Veterans navigate transition.

The current study used a narrative approach to explore US Veterans’ normative experiences of transition. Narratives play an important role in transition as Veterans attempt to create a coherent story of their experience and how they got to where they are.5, 8, 12 This study aimed to uncover and understand transition challenges, adaptive and maladaptive ways of coping, and the impact on Veterans’ adaptation to civilian life. Findings could be used to better understand positive and negative transition issues and to assist future transitioning Veterans.

Participants

Narrative approaches require in-depth analysis; thus, smaller sample sizes are valued. Six male post-9/11 US military Veterans living in the Chicagoland area (defined as Cook, DuPage, Will, and Lake Counties) were recruited. It was important to have a sample of post-9/11 Veterans because their experiences differ from those of pre-9/11 Veterans. Male and female Veterans have different transition experiences and use different gender-specific narratives; therefore, a male sample was used.

Participant recruitment

Participants were recruited via opportunity sampling. Potential participants had previously participated in an online survey study2 and agreed to be contacted about additional research. Those meeting the desired criteria were invited to take part via email (n = 34) and asked to reply to the email if they wanted to participate. One Veteran was recruited by means of this email alone, and follow-up phone calls were used to recruit the additional five participants. Participants were aged between 23 and 56 years; had served in the Marines, Army, or Navy (no Air Force Veterans responded to the invitation to participate); had served between 2 and 25 years; had deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan; and had voluntarily left service between 1 and 12 years ago (Table 1).

Table

Table 1. Biographical sketch of participants using assigned pseudonyms

Table 1. Biographical sketch of participants using assigned pseudonyms

Name Age Service Total years of service Years since left service
Carlos 23 Marine 4.0 1.0
David 30 Army 10.0 1.5
Christopher 56 Army 25.0 12.0
Liam 28 Navy 4.0 7.5
Luke 36 Marine 4.0 9.0
Brian 41 Navy 10.0 1.0
Materials

Unlike other qualitative approaches, narrative research does not tend to use semi-structured interview schedules. The narrative interview is considered an unstructured in-depth interview. The only direct questions asked are follow-up questions generated organically by the researcher while participants tell their story, but these questions are not asked until after participants have finished telling their story. Thus, no interview schedule was used. An electronic recording device was used to record all six interviews.

Procedure

The four-stage procedure adapted from the work of Schutze (1977), as described by Jovchelovitch and Bauer,13 was used to guide the interviews. This particular narrative method was chosen because of its aim of eliciting narratives for the purpose of social science research. This narrative method focuses on moving beyond a question-and-answer scenario, in which the interviewer imposes structures, topics, and language. This narrative approach instead aims to provide a space for participants to retell their narrative of the life event under investigation, in their own words, choosing what they deem important to share. This specific type of narrative approach is thought to be particularly useful for studies investigating aspects of individuals’ life history.13 The four stages of the narrative interview were conducted as follows:

  1. Initiation: Before the participant was invited to share his story, the context of the investigation was explained to the participant, the participant was asked for permission to record the interview, and the structure of the process was described.

  2. Main narration: Once started, the narration was not interrupted until the participant signalled that he had finished. During narration, the researcher refrained from commenting, other than nonverbal signals of attentive listening and clear encouragement to continue. The researcher took brief notes to inform the follow-up questions.

  3. Questioning phase: Once the narration ended naturally, the researcher began the questioning phase. The researcher attempted to use the participant’s language as much as possible.

  4. Concluding talk: The digital recorder was switched off, and small talk ensued. Talking in this relaxed mood helped throw light on the more formal account given during the narration and in some cases helped in the interpretation of the data.

As suggested by Jovchelovitch and Bauer,13 a timeline was used for the first three pilot interviews to help guide the narration, but this appeared to stunt the participants’ ability to tell a free-flowing story, instead focusing on ensuring they covered the topics on the timeline. The timeline was not used in the remaining pilot interviews, and freer flowing narratives were noted. A timeline was not used in the study interviews. The time points from the timeline did act as a broad guide to the follow-up questions asked at the questioning phase and included the decision to leave, preparations (work, home, family, friends), and post-service life (work, home, family, friends). The six study interviews were conducted in a quiet private room and lasted between 30 and 90 minutes. All participants were provided a US$30 cash incentive.

Analysis

Jovchelovitch and Bauer13 report that the approach taken to analyze the narrative data is open and can include the use of thematic analysis or structural analysis approaches, depending on the aim of the specific study. Narrative analysis is interested in the overall story and the temporality of events, as well as the smaller narratives within the story that construct the reality the narrator (Veteran) wishes to portray of the life event (transition) under study. The analysis in this study focused on looking for the emergent narratives in the Veterans’ stories that showed how they navigated and made sense of their transition experience and how these narratives constructed the realities they wished to share. For the purpose of this study, a thematic analysis approach, adopted from that described by Braun and Clarke,14 was used to guide the analysis process.

Each participant’s transcript was analyzed individually before looking across all transcripts. Each transcript was initially read three to four times, which enabled identification of smaller narratives within the larger story while gaining an understanding of the larger story. Then, with a close understanding of the story, coding of emergent narratives began. Once smaller narrative codes were identified, how these codes illuminated and contradicted each other was considered, and they were merged to create narrative codes. A list of initial codes with descriptions of what each narrative represented was developed. Narrative codes were organized into master narrative themes consisting of the codes. A table of the master narratives and codes was produced for each participants’ transcript once saturation of themes had been reached. I then moved on to the next case. Once a table of master narratives was created for each participant, I looked at how each participant’s experience illuminated or deviated from the others, leading to the development of an overall master table of narratives, once saturation of master themes and sub-themes was reached. An additional researcher independent of the study and experienced in qualitative research co-coded a random selection of the transcripts. The co-coder highlighted themes and codes similar to those derived from the original analysis. It was believed that the codes, narratives, and interpretations derived from the transcripts were representative of the participants’ experiences.

Ethical considerations

Approval for this study was granted by the University of Southern California’s institutional review board. This study was deemed exempt because, at transcription, the data would be anonymized, and the study entailed minimal to no risk of harm.

Three master narratives were identified: narratives about the challenges, narratives of readiness, and narratives of continued military values. These master narratives and their respective sub-narratives are presented next. Of note, some of the sub-narrative labels are direct quotes from the Veterans and therefore appear in quotation marks. The sub-narrative labels not in quotation marks were devised by the author to best represent the sub-narrative.

Narratives about the challenges

Veterans experienced psychological and practical challenges, represented by three sub-narratives: “starting over,” “how to be a civilian,” and ambiguity of civilian life.

“Starting over”

“Starting over” represented frustrations such as missed education, returning to college when their peers had finished, the challenge of relocation to new cities, and the reality that their military experience did not translate to a civilian setting. Starting over also represented the existential challenges of considering who they are in the civilian world as a result of the loss of previous status and the realization that their military careers, experiences, and achievements mean little to civilians: “Like I don’t care how many ribbons you got, how many medals you got in the Marine Corps … that shit don’t, like no one cares about that when you get out, yeah” (Carlos, p. 18, line 27).

“How to be a civilian”

Veterans faced the challenge of adapting to the cultural differences of civilian society such as communication, alertness, and work ethic. The cultural differences had a negative psychological impact that caused frustrations and challenges in connecting with work colleagues, leading to feelings of isolation. The Veterans learned to manage the differences by adapting their ways and expectations:

The military, like they just instill that sort of … so like your actions, showing up on time, being presentable, being in, dressed as you need to be, you know, that’s a reflection of you and your respect for everyone you work with … it was like a disrespectful thing for these people to just not show up when people relied on them. (David, p. 8, line 12)

Ambiguity of civilian life

Narratives of rigidity and lack of autonomy in the military contrasted with narratives of how difficult the Veterans found the ambiguity and freedom of civilian society. Ambiguity created frustrations with others, mostly civilians, not following rules or completing tasks correctly, as well as feeling overwhelmed by choices and options. The Veterans learned to manage this by building confidence in their ability to be autonomous and learning to adjust and let things go when things were not necessarily being completed the “right” way:

You’re wearing a uniform at all time, you can’t go when you please … every single step is controlled … and now you kinda have this freedom, people aren’t so regimented, yeah it affects you … a little more frustrated when things aren’t … according to plan. (Brian, p. 9, line 12)

Narratives of readiness

The majority of the participants, except for Liam, had prepared for transition, enabling them to navigate the challenges. Liam’s initial transition experience was, however, very difficult. Narratives of readiness were represented by three sub-narratives: “I knew what I wanted to do,” “everything was set,” and realistic expectations.

“I knew what I wanted to do”

Feelings of anxiety about post-service life motivated five of the Veterans to consider what they would do after service, ranging from having a vague idea of going to college to having a clear idea about the specific work they would do and where they would live. Knowing what they wanted to do created drive and motivation to plan for the future, which had a positive impact on transition because it led them to make preparations, as demonstrated in the following narrative theme: “The big question was what I was gonna do … I liked carpentry and whatnot so I was like I can go into theater and do carpentry, so I went back to school” (Luke, p. 1, line 8).

“Everything was set”

Knowing what they would do led five of the participants to make preparations such as securing employment, enrolling in college, finding somewhere to live, and saving money before they left the military. The Veterans’ efficacy, initiative, and confidence was exemplified through their preparations: “I made sure I’d saved up so that I could, ’cause like I said, I had intended on taking no job. I just wanted to exist for a couple of months. … I had prepared myself for that” (David, p. 4, line 17).

The divergent case of Liam highlights the impact of not preparing; when he left service, he initially returned to his mother’s house; there was no room or bed for him and nowhere to put his things. He spent his first post-service year isolated, playing video games. Liam’s exit from military service, although voluntary, was in the context of a negative military experience of being bullied, which affected his self-esteem and ability to think past leaving service:

I couldn’t continue doing it, especially with the type of environment I was in. You know, you join the military thinking you’re going to be safe and you’re not. … I was kind of in a void when I got out of the military, I didn’t have any way to do anything, I didn’t have. … The world was terrifying. (Liam, p. 3, line 25)

Realistic expectations

Being prepared helped create realistic expectations of civilian life, enabling Veterans to make a smoother transition, with the main shock being cultural (“how to be a civilian”). The realistic expectations were mostly related to their earning potential, where they could afford to live, and what kind of jobs they might get: “You need to start saving up for these things. … Because once you’re a civilian, you’re gonna lose this life insurance, you’re gonna have to have something else in place, and you should have that before you leave” (Brian, p. 10, line 25).

Narratives of continued military values

Continuing military values enabled smoother transitions and highlighted that successful transition requires more than being prepared, as represented by the three sub-narratives: meaningful and purposeful occupation, social support, and Veteran connected.

Meaningful and purposeful occupation

While serving in the military, individuals had clear meaning and purpose. The majority of the Veterans discussed their desire to continue doing something meaningful. The positive and enthusiastic way Liam spoke about his current work appeared to demonstrate the benefit of finding meaning through his occupation; despite initial transition challenges and lack of readiness, he later found positive meaningful experience in his work with Veterans, which appeared to help increase his motivation and ability to adapt to civilian life. Conversely, Luke’s lack of purpose and meaning seemed to affect his self-esteem and well-being. The contrasting cases of Luke and Liam highlight the importance of meaning and purpose in life in developing self-esteem, affirmed identity, and motivation:

I call myself the key master, ’cause I just have a wad of keys. … I unlock doors for people. … I feel like I need to do something service-related, something actually meaningful. (Luke, p. 12, line 2)

So we’re getting a crazy amount of press right now … and they look awesome for doing it [the Veterans he works with], so it’s a great way to empower them [the Veterans he works with] … and they [current employer] invested a lot of training in me … probably that whole process is right, more when I found an identity and that’s really about people recognizing you in a real way. (Liam, p. 14, line 26)

Social support

Most of the Veterans reported having support from family, friends, spouses, and the church. Family provided practical support, such as offering an initial place to live; spouses provided emotional support; and the church provided community, practical, and emotional support. This social support appeared to replace that previously experienced in the military. Carlos and Liam were socially avoidant, preferring to be self-reliant. Luke also reported marital problems. These participants appeared to be experiencing problems such as low mood, anger, and insecurities: “The church was probably like the biggest piece other than you know the military base itself as far as the resources to switch and to … settle in to the new city” (Brian, p. 6, line 12).

Veteran connected

All of the Veterans, except Luke, were connected with fellow Veterans through employment, Veteran groups supporting other Veterans, or hobbies. Maintaining military connections assisted transition. Practically, being Veteran connected helped in finding employment. Psychologically, it provided an opportunity for shared experience, values, and communication, which helped cushion the culture shock and provided meaning and purpose similar to their military experiences. This is exemplified by Christopher’s narrative of continuing to wear the uniform in his first civilian job as an ROTC teacher: “I still wore the uniform every day.… I think it helped.… I felt very comfortable doing it … so I did not go into a completely … alien world” (Christopher, p. 18, line 10).

Luke was not connected with other Veterans but showed some interest in potentially joining a Veterans group, although he appeared hesitant. This contrasted with his clear military affiliation, as demonstrated by his office being decorated with military insignia and his enjoyment of how this demonstrated his military identity. Luke’s lack of actual contact and contradictions in his desire to join Veteran groups indicated his loneliness and isolation:

Yeah, Red, White, and Blue, yeah, I’m trying to do that, it’s a get-together every third Thursday of the month or something, … but I can’t actually go, I’m taking a music lesson on Thursdays, so that doesn’t work out.… I want to go to that but I want to do this.… I’d like to have more friends, but sometimes it’s difficult. (Luke, p. 15, line 1)

Like I kind of distanced myself … apparently some people were scared of me when they first met me.… I’m okay with being grumpy, um, but I guess as time has gone on I think I’ve gotten more um, not gung ho, like my office, mm, my office is like my man cave, there’s Marine Corps flag, there’s our squadron flag on one wall … a tourist map of Iraq.… One women called me the Marine, like I didn’t want to be associated with it, but now it’s like my identity. (Luke, p. 18, line 3)

Veterans’ experiences of military transition were examined using a narrative approach that highlighted the challenges Veterans face during transition and the ways in which they navigate them.

Narratives about the challenges

Veterans faced challenges and frustrations such as having to start over, learning how to be a civilian, navigating the ambiguity of civilian life, and re-establishing who they are. Transition threatened their military identity; letting go of their military identity might create emptiness and an existential crisis of “who am I, then?”7 Starting over included a loss of status and a sense of self as they realized that their military experiences, status, and achievements were meaningless in civilian society. The military system of meaning and recognition is reportedly meaningless to civilians, and former markers of status and identity no longer hold; Veterans must find new markers of status and identity while managing the practical aspects of new roles.7

Veterans must navigate and interpret new ways of being as they attempt to learn how to be a civilian. Smith and True reported that many post-service veterans experience civilian society as alienating and dislocating.7 Previous military identities influence Veterans’ communication, interactions, and expectations of others. Military cultural norms and identities clash with civilian identities and cultural norms.7, 11 These clashes are problematic because people derive pride and self-esteem from the affirmation of shared experiences and group membership.10 Navigating how to be a civilian may threaten identity and create the challenge of forming a new identity. The ambiguity and lack of structure of civilian society likely exacerbates the challenges in forming a new identity.8 Among retirees, the individuation of post-work life is reportedly overwhelming.15 Leaving an identity previously tied to a career and having the freedom to be an individual requires individuals to reconcile who, as individuals, they are.15

Narratives of readiness

Feeling anxious about the future led the majority of the Veterans to ready themselves for transition, including thinking about what they wanted to do post-service. Seeking alternatives is related to managing inevitable shifts to self-identity.1 Prolonged identification with a specific role is likely to create a sense of loss on exiting that role; through consideration of a new role, the individual may go some way toward minimizing the loss.1

Knowing what they wanted to do meant the majority of Veterans were prepared and had everything set. Liam’s deviant narrative of unpreparedness highlights the negative impact of not thinking ahead and planning. Liam’s unpreparedness was due to the way he left the military. Although he left voluntarily, he had a negative experience while serving that affected his ability to think and plan for his future. Having a definite job lined up and an alternative career arranged before exit makes adjustment easier than having no definite plans or the inability to make them.1 Bridging old and new roles assists in the process of re-establishing a social identity. Making practical transition preparations may help identity rehearsal that paves the way for the assumption of new roles.4 Having things in place means that Veterans had realistic expectations about civilian life except for the impact of the cultural differences.

Narratives of continued military values

The divergent cases of Luke and Liam highlight that preparations only go so far in enabling transition. Having meaningful and purposeful occupation, being socially supported, and being Veteran connected, as when they were in the military, assisted Veterans in assimilating to civilian life. The continuation of military values can be interpreted existentially. Yalom16 proposes four “givens of existence” that people must reconcile: the fear of death and the wish to continue living, the fear of freedom and the lack of external structure but a desire for grounding and structure, one’s ultimate aloneness but the desire to be part of a larger whole, and the search for meaning in a universe that has no meaning.16 These givens lie deep in people’s subconscious, with most going through life unaffected by them; however, they may surface in situations that force people to confront their own mortality, some major irreversible decision, or the collapse of some fundamental meaning-providing schema,16 which likely happens during military transition. Fear of freedom (ambiguity and autonomy) and a desire for grounding (military structure and hierarchy), the search for meaning (how to be a civilian and meaningful and purposeful occupation), and being alone (starting over and social and military connectedness) are represented in these Veterans’ challenge narratives but reconciled to some extent by the continued military values narratives.

Finding new meaning in their civilian lives was important to aid transition. Luke seemed to lack meaning, showing anger and frustration, which appeared to have a detrimental effect on his well-being. Becoming civilian again means re-establishing command over existence with self-determination and autonomy.7 The majority of the Veterans in this study regained control and autonomy through their narratives that they were doing something meaningful.

The importance of social support for many life scenarios, including transitions, is well documented in the literature.15 Having social support helps reconcile the existential given of one’s ultimate aloneness. Military service likely provides a consistent feeling of being part of a larger whole. The Veterans who appeared to be having the most difficult transition experiences were the three who were most socially isolated. Connecting with other Veterans helps reconcile the existential need to feel part of a larger whole and aids in the re-establishment of social identity through contact with others with shared experiences. There are few outlets in civilian society in which to share, translate, or be understood;7 thus, having connections with other Veterans is seemingly important. Connecting with other Veterans enables Veterans to re-establish “who they are” as they share their experiences not just as military personnel but in their new identity as military Veterans.

Summary

Popular perceptions of Veterans, and many of the programs provided for Veterans, are focused on those facing challenges, especially mental and physical health difficulties. The relative success of transition is most often assessed in current literature by considering employment, health, and homelessness. On the basis of these facets, all six participants would be considered to have had a good transition at the time the interviews were conducted; all were either employed or in school, had somewhere to live, and were physically well. Using a narrative approach afforded a closer inspection, indicating that although the practical and tangible aspects of transition are important, an additional important connected element is existential and related to identity. These six Veterans’ experiences indicate that navigating transition is practical, psychological, and existential.

Implications

Anyone working with Veterans should be aware of the challenges of practical adjustment to civilian life and the impact on identity and potential existential crisis. Veteran cultural competency should include awareness of the potential risk of sub-clinical mental health difficulties among those struggling to reconcile a new Veteran identity and find meaning and purpose in civilian society. How connected Veterans are to other Veterans, Veteran organizations, and other forms of social support should be assessed. Veterans should be encouraged to engage in activities in which they can find meaning and purpose and in which they can feel control. Veterans who are not connected to other Veterans, who are socially isolated, and who lack a sense of meaning may be at increased risk of experiencing psychological health challenges.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is mandatory for all exiting military personnel and currently focuses on the practical elements of finding employment. TAP should include additional information regarding the realities of the cultural differences of civilian society, the importance of finding meaning, and the importance of connecting with other Veterans. Thinking about post-service life before discharge should be encouraged. Future research should investigate the adaptation to civilian culture, creation of new identity, and the impact on psychological well-being. Further research should also investigate the positive impact of being Veteran connected.

Strengths and limitations

The small sample size, the variation in years of service and years since Veterans had left service, the all-male sample, and lack of representation of the US Air Force means caution should be taken when considering these findings in terms of the wider Veteran population. The cross-sectional nature of the study is a limitation, although using a narrative approach provided temporal insights into the Veterans’ experiences. This study did not include Veterans with physical health problems, which could further exacerbate transition challenges. The length and content of the interviews was seemingly affected by how comfortable and confident the participants felt sharing their stories. The nature of data collection may have deterred less confident Veterans from taking part. The narrative approach is a strength because it highlights a side to Veteran transition experiences that does not often receive as much attention in transition programs, such as the importance of considering psychological and existential experiences.

A fundamental addition to how Veteran transition is researched, supported, and thought about and how researchers and clinicians work with Veterans is proposed. Consistent with previous research, this study highlights the role of identity and the impact of culture. Research and work with Veterans should focus not only on the practical elements of transition, but equally on the psychological and existential aspects of reconciling a Veteran identity, adjusting to civilian culture, and finding purpose in existence. By raising awareness of the need for practical, psychological, and existential management of transition, many Veterans may transition and adapt to civilian society with more ease.

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None declared.

Mary Keeling was the sole author of this article and was responsible for the conceptualization of the research question, design, data collection, and analysis and drafted the manuscript. She received feedback and consultation from colleagues, but they did not feel their contribution warranted authorship.

Approval for this study was granted by the University of Southern California’s institutional review board. This study was deemed exempt because, at transcription, the data would be anonymized, and the study entailed minimal to no risk of harm.

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None declared.

This article has been peer reviewed.