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Military Transition To Civilian Life: A Guide for Veterans

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Military Transition to Civilian Life

Making the transition from military to civilian life can be difficult. Service members face many challenges as they adjust to a new lifestyle. Some of the challenges they face may include finding a job, coping with mental health conditions such as PTSD, and dealing with substance abuse.1

Veterans commonly struggle with readjustment after they leave the military and return to their families, friends, and communities, making them more vulnerable to mental health problems and substance use. Challenges associated with reintegrating into civilian life post-deployment are one of the well-recognized risk factors linking veterans and substance abuse. Close to 11% of veterans who present for care for the first time within the VHA system have a diagnosis of substance abuse disorder.2

Military life is often very different from civilian life. Service members must follow strict rules and regulations and are often separated from their families for long periods of time. When they transition from military to civilian life, they may have difficulty adjusting to their past lifestyle. They may be unable to cope with the stress of everyday life, which can lead to mental health problems. In addition, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their problems.1

This article will discuss the challenges veterans face when transitioning to civilian life, the services available to them through military transition assistance programs, and how these programs can help veterans reduce their risk of developing mental health problems or substance use disorders.

What Are the Most Common Military To Civilian Transition Challenges?

Being in the military requires a unique lifestyle that can be difficult to transition out of for several reasons. Some of the most common reasons for a difficult transition to civilian life include:1

  • The loss of structure and routine: In the military, every day is structured with a set schedule. This can be lost during the transition to civilian life, where there is more flexibility and freedom in how one spends time.
  • The loss of a sense of purpose: The military provides a clear sense of purpose and mission. In the civilian world, finding a job or career that provides the same level of fulfillment can be more difficult.
  • The loss of camaraderie: The military is a close-knit community where everyone looks out for one another. Finding friends and building relationships can be more difficult following a veteran’s transition to civilian life.

As a result, veterans often experience difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life. Some of the most commonly observed military to civilian transition challenges include:1

  • Struggling to find a new purpose and identity after leaving the military. Many veterans struggle to relate to people outside the services who don’t share the same experiences or understand how difficult veterans’ reintegration into civilian life can be.
  • Struggling with physical and mental health issues that may have arisen during or after service. This may include any injuries or conditions such as PTSD.
  • Having difficulty finding a job that matches their skill set and experience. It may have been their first time looking for a civilian job, applying, or interviewing for one.
  • Facing financial challenges due to a decrease in income. Furthermore, the military provides basic necessities such as food, housing, and clothing. Following the transition to civilian life, veterans have to secure these on their own, which is why they often fear losing their job and their income.
  • Experiencing difficulty readjusting to life outside of the military structure and lifestyle. With its clear chain of command, the military provides a structure that civilian life does not. In an environment where there is more ambiguity, Veterans will have to create their own structure.
  • Feeling isolated from family and friends who don’t understand the unique challenges and the correlating difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life. Furthermore, the family has likely formed new routines during the Veterans’ absence, which both will have to adjust to.

What Are the Effects of Transition Stress and PTSD on Veterans?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after you experience or witness a traumatic event and is often linked to veterans and substance abuse.4 

Veterans who suffer from PTSD often struggle with daily life, which is why they are more likely to find comfort in drugs or alcohol. Many experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event. This can make it difficult to concentrate, sleep, or participate in everyday activities.4

PTSD can also lead to emotional numbness, social isolation, and anger. Veterans may find it difficult to trust other people or feel close to them. They may also lash out at others, which can further damage relationships.4

On the other hand, transition stress is a type of stress that can occur when you’re transitioning from one phase of life to another and often occurs during veteran transition to civilian life. Transition stress results from the many changes that occur when a person leaves the military. These changes can include leaving friends and colleagues behind, adjusting to a new job or location, and dealing with the psychological aftermath of combat. 5

Transition stress can cause symptoms similar to those of PTSD, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety in addition to difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. However, transition stress is not the same as PTSD. It’s important to get help if you’re experiencing symptoms of either condition during the transition from military to civilian life.5

The effects of stress and PTSD on veterans can vary depending on the individual’s age. For younger veterans, the experience of transition stress and PTSD can be more damaging, leading to problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, unemployment, and homelessness. In contrast, older veterans are more likely to suffer from physical health problems like heart disease, stroke, gastritis, and dementia. In addition, both groups of veterans are at risk for suicide.6

What Are The Mental Health Challenges Associated With Transition To Civilian Life?

The mental health challenges associated with the transition to civilian life are multifaceted. They include but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders (SUDs). Additionally, 63% of recent Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who have been diagnosed with SUD have also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2

Suicide rates among active military personnel and veterans are far higher than those of the civilian population. Veterans accounted for more than 20 percent of national suicides in 2014, resulting in an average of 20 suicides per day among the veteran population. This is why helping veterans transition to civilian life is essential.2

Why Is Substance Abuse Common During Transition From Military To Civilian Life?

Service members are at high risk of substance abuse during their transition to civilian life. The short-term effects of drugs and alcohol may temporarily help service members cope with psychological trauma, depression, anxiety, pain, and injuries sustained in combat. This is why veterans may be prone to suffering from substance use disorders.8

The Department of Veterans Affairs notes that veterans are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol if they:8

  • Have a history of substance abuse.
  • Suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders.
  • Have difficulty readjusting to civilian life.
  • Feel isolated from family and friends.
  • Struggle to find a job or housing.

These are all common challenges that veterans face during their transition from military to civilian life. Many of them turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. However, this only makes the situation worse. Substance abuse can lead to additional problems, such as financial instability, relationship issues, and legal trouble.7

Veteran Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Facilities

There are many programs and services available to veterans during the transition from military to civilian life.  Veterans can access them directly through VA facilities or through community care providers designated by the MISSION Act. Military service members who are readjusting to civilian life benefit greatly from transitional assistance programs.8,9

A great range of health care providers is available to veterans thanks to the MISSION Act and community care. Through the program, eligible veterans can receive healthcare from community providers in certain circumstances. Those suffering from substance abuse disorders (SUDs) or mental illness, for instance, might be able to access treatment in their area through community care providers like the American Addiction Centers (AAC).

One such program is the Salute to Recovery program offered at the Desert Hope Treatment Center. The Desert Hope Treatment Center is a renowned drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that offers a wide range of services, helping veterans transition to civilian life. The staff at Desert Hope is highly experienced and dedicated to helping their patients recover from addiction and offers veteran transition assistance to retired military personnel.

What is a Veteran Transition Assistance Program?

If you’re a Veteran who is transitioning to civilian life, the Veteran Transitional Assistance Programs can help you make a smooth transition. These programs provide job training and placement assistance, as well as counseling and support services.9 

Pre-separation counseling is the first step in the Transitional Assistance Programs (TAPs). The purpose of this is for service members to learn more about the resources and benefits at their disposal.9

After the initial counseling services take place, service members attend intensive courses and training on a variety of topics. A person may experience difficulties in reconnecting with family members, facing financial difficulties, adjusting to a new school or education, and discovering what benefits and services are available to them.9

What is the Role of the Family During Veterans’ Reintegration Into Civilian Life?

The family is one of the most important support systems available to veterans as they reintegrate back into civilian life. The love, care, and understanding that family members can provide play an integral role in helping veterans readjust to life outside of the military.10

For many veterans, reconnecting with their families is an important part of the reintegration process. Spending time with loved ones can help veterans feel more grounded and provide them with a much-needed sense of support and stability. In some cases, family members may also be able to offer practical assistance, such as helping with childcare or transportation.10

In addition to providing emotional support, families can also play an important role in helping veterans access resources and services. Many family members are familiar with the challenges that veterans face and can offer advice and guidance on where to find help. Additionally, families can serve as a link to vital community support systems, such as veteran-specific organizations or government programs.10

Employment Resources for Veterans During Transition From Military To Civilian Life

If you’re a veteran looking for employment resources, be sure to check out all of the options listed below. With a little help, you should be able to find employment and help during the transition to civilian life:

  • Veterans Employment Center: The government’s one-stop resource to connect transitioning service members, Veterans, and their families to jobs and career opportunities and upcoming Veteran Career Fairs.11
  • VetNet: A digital platform aimed at helping service members transitioning into civilian life prepare for meaningful careers after service.12
  • USAJOBS: The official site for federal job openings.13
  • US Department of the Treasury: Provides wounded service members and veterans with unpaid internships.14
  • US Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development: Offers counseling and resources for veterans aimed at starting, growing, and succeeding as entrepreneurs.15

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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