Transition from Military Service to Civilian Life

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Transitioning from military life to civilian life can be an extremely difficult ordeal for a large number of veterans. Many service members can face unique challenges during their adjustment to a new way of life. These typically range from inability to find a job to coping with a wide range of mental health problems and struggling with different forms of substance abuse.1

Most commonly, veterans struggle with readjusting to a new lifestyle after their service in the military and they experience difficulties reestablishing relationships with their friends, families, and local communities, leading to increased vulnerability and susceptibility for the development of substance abuse and mental health conditions. The challenges linked with post-deployment reintegration into civilian way of life are risk factors closely related to substance abuse in veterans. Nearly 11% of all veterans looking for care and assistance within the system of Veterans Health Administration, or VHA, have a diagnosis associated with a form of substance abuse disorders, or SUDs.2

Civilian life is very different from military service. Members of the Armed Forces abide by a series of strict regulations and rules while being separated from friends, families, and loved ones for potentially prolonged periods. As they begin the process of transition from military to civilian life, a range of difficulties may arise, leading to the development of varied issues. Veterans frequently find themselves unable to deal with the daily stresses of their civilian life, leading them to find refuge in drug or alcohol use.1

That’s why it’s important to discuss both the challenges veterans can face when dealing with such a difficult transition, as well as the available help they can receive during this stressful period through a military transition assistance program. Knowing how one such program can assist them in dealing with these challenges is the first step toward finding a suitable solution for issues during their transition from military to civilian life.1

What Challenges Exist When Transitioning from the Army to Civilian Life?

Military life comprises a series of unique lifestyle characteristics which often make it difficult for veterans to transition back into civilian life. Among widespread potential challenges veterans may face, some of the more common ones are:1

  • Absence of routine and structure: The military features structured and organized days, always with set schedules. When transitioning to civilian life, the innate freedom and flexibility often prove challenging for the veterans to cope with, causing them to long for the structure of military life.
  • Absence of purpose: Life in the military is filled with a comprehensive sense of mission and purpose for every individual involved. During a veteran’s transition back to civilian life, it’s often difficult to reach that identical level of purpose through acquisition of a career or a job.
  • Absence of camaraderie: The close-knit nature of the military where all service members look after the well-being of one another can make the reestablishment of traditional relationships difficult due to their different nature.

Due to these unique challenges, veterans can experience a range of difficulties during their transition from military life to civilian life, with the most commonly encountered ones being:1

  • Feelings of isolation. Friends and family who are unable to fully comprehend the challenges they faced during their military service and the challenges they’re facing while transitioning from military to civilian life can heighten the sense of isolation in a veteran. What’s more, friends and family are likely to form new routines while the veteran was actively serving, creating difficulties with reintegration into a civilian way of living.
  • Difficulty adjusting to civilian lifestyle without military structure. The military, featuring a structured chain of command is extremely different from civilian life, making it very challenging for the veteran to readjust their life and accept a natively ambiguous and uncertain nature of civilian life.
  • Financial challenges stemming from decreased income. During active service, the military not only offers monetary compensation for the services rendered, but it also provides all the basic necessities, including clothing, housing, and food. As they transition from military to civilian life, former service members may find themselves unable to get used to these abrupt changes in lifestyle.
  • Inability to find a job. Numerous veterans face the challenge of finding or retaining a steady job upon exiting active military service, especially ones in line with their experience and skills. This can lead to a strengthened sense of dissatisfaction, further emphasizing their feelings of inability to reintegrate into civilian life while adding the stress of continual interviews and rejections.
  • Inception or continuation of mental and physical health problems. Veterans who’ve struggled with mental health or physical issues will continue to combat them during their transition to civilian life. Also, the abrupt change of lifestyle can lead many veterans to develop substance abuse and mental health problems in an attempt to cope with the changing nature of their life.
  • Inability to find purpose in their life. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, during a veteran’s transition to civilian life, many individuals struggle to find purpose and meaning in their new life due to the lack of structured and purposeful experiences the military tends to offer.

How Does PTSD & Transition Stress Affect Veterans?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, represents a mental health problem which has a tendency to occur after first-hand experiences of traumatic events. This condition is usually closely related to the development of substance abuse disorders in veterans.3

Veterans who struggle with PTSD often find it difficult to adjust to a civilian daily routine, or lack thereof, which makes it more likely for these individuals to find solace in alcohol or drugs. Many veterans find it difficult to cope with manifestations of PTSD, such as intrusive thoughts leading them back to the traumatic event, as well as nightmares and flashbacks about said event. This, along with other potential issues, leads to difficulties sleeping, concentrating, and participating in a wide range of daily civilian activities.4

On top of that, post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause anger, social isolation, as well as numbness, which can make it difficult for veterans to allow people to become close to them and cause inability for veterans to trust people around them, which can potentially be damaging to their relationships.4

Transition stress occurs when people transition from one stage of their lives to another, and it commonly occurs as veterans transition back into civilian life. This type of stress stems from a unique set of challenges associated with an individual leaving active military services and replacing the structured nature of military life with the largely unstructured civilian life. Some of the most common challenges veterans face during this difficult period include readjustment to the new living space, a sense of guilt over leaving their colleagues behind, as well as a wide range of issues related to the often traumatic psychological aftermath of a seemingly new life.5

In general, symptoms of PTSD and transition stress can be similar and include loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks, among others. However, the two are not the same and clearly differentiating between the stress stemming from the transition from military life to civilian life and PTSD is essential for finding the right type of assistance.5

The symptoms and the effects of PTSD and stress on veterans can be different and vary according to the age of the veteran. For example, younger veterans can have a more damaging experience dealing with PTSD and transition stress, which can lead to a wide range of issues, including drug and alcohol abuse, mental health conditions, unemployment and, ultimately, homelessness.6

On the other hand, older veterans exhibit a tendency to struggle with physical issues, including dementia, gastritis, stroke, and heart disease. However, it’s important to emphasize that the type of physical or mental health issue a veteran can develop remains highly individual and can vary on a case-to-case basis. Finally, both older and younger veterans are at serious risk of suicidal ideation.6

Which Mental Health Issues Accompany Transition from Military to Civilian Life?

Transition to civilian life from military service can lead to the development of different mental health problems. They can include SUDs, or substance abuse disorders, anxiety, and depression, as well as other conditions. What’s more, as many as 63% of veterans who actively served in Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve experienced difficulties with an SUD also struggled to overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder.2

In addition, the rate of suicidal ideation and actual suicide are higher in veterans and active service members in comparison to civilians. During 2014, suicides among the veteran population accounted for more than 20% of all national suicides, averaging 20 daily suicides among veterans. This is only one of the reasons why helping veterans transitioning to civilian life remains paramount.2

What Are the Reasons for Substance Abuse When Transitioning From Military Life To Civilian Life?

When transitioning to civilian life, veterans are at heightened risk of developing a substance abuse problem in comparison to the rest of the civilian population. Short-term effects associated with use of alcohol and drugs are a temporary solution for veterans experiencing anxiety, depression, psychological traumas, or pain resulting from combat-related injuries. This makes the veteran population more prone to the development of an SUD.7, 8

According to the information from the Department of Veteran Affairs, former service members have higher chances of developing an alcohol or substance abuse disorder if:8

  • They have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • They struggle with overcoming PTSD.
  • They struggle with issues with different mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • They experience difficulties transitioning from military to civilian life.
  • They foster a feeling of isolation from friends and family.
  • They struggle to find housing or jobs.

All these challenges are common for veterans during their transition from military life to civilian life, leading many former service members to abuse alcohol and drugs in an attempt to come with these difficulties. However, alcohol and drug use only worsen these problems and often lead to the development of additional issues, including legal trouble, relationship problems, and financial instability.7

What Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Is Available to Veterans

Many services and programs are designed specifically for helping veterans more easily transition to civilian life from active military service. Veterans have access to them through different VA facilities as well as providers of community care as proscribed by the MISSION Act. Those former service members experiencing difficulties transitioning from military to civilian life can significantly benefit from different transitional assistance programs available nationwide.9

The MISSION Act and the community care opportunities it offers allow eligible veterans to find suitable help for both their physical and mental health problems. For example, those veterans struggling to overcome a substance abuse disorder or a mental health illness can access required treatment in their area of residence through a wide range of available community care providers, such as American Addiction Centers, or AAC.9

One of the available programs is the Salute to Recovery Program, available at the Desert Hope Treatment Center. This facility is a reputable alcohol and drug rehabilitation center offering varied services designed to provide assistance to those veterans experiencing difficulties transitioning from military to civilian life. Their staff consists of dedicated, caring, and experienced specialists capable of helping veterans recover from their addiction and successfully reintegrating into the civilian way of life.

However, that’s not all AAC is capable of providing. As the leader among addiction treatment providers, American Addiction Centers offers:

Feel free to contact their experienced and caring admissions navigators who will offer all the information you need, including:

This way, all veterans are able to find all the resources they need for understanding how their insurance can pay for their treatment and what types of rehab are available to them across the nation. Reach out to AAC at your earliest convenience and allow their dedicated professionals to provide all the information you need.

What Does Veteran Transition Assistance Represent?

The Veteran Transitional Assistance Program allows veterans who are finding themselves unable to adequately reintegrate into civilian life to find adequate assistance that will allow them an easier transition. Programs such as these offer job training, placement assistance, and support and counseling services.9

The first step in such a program is typically pre-separation counseling with the purpose of allowing service members to learn about the benefits and resources available if they experience difficulties transitioning from military to civilian life.9

Upon initial counseling, service members undergo intensive training and courses on a wide range of topics. Since veterans can experience different challenges after active military service, it’s helpful to attend lessons that will familiarize them with the resources available to them in case they struggle with securing stable finances, finding a job, continuing their education, or living with their family.9

How Can Family Help When Veterans Reintegrate Into Civilian Life?

Family is an essential support system available to the majority of veterans transitioning to civilian life. The understanding, the care, and the love family members can offer all play an essential role when helping veterans adjust to a way of life so different from the one they had while actively serving in the military.10

The majority of veterans state that reconnecting with their family plays a crucial role during their reintegration into civilian life. Spending quality time with those closest to them can provide the stability and the support they need. What’s more, there are cases in which family members are able to provide practical support, for example assisting with transportation and child care.10

Besides the emotional support a family can offer to veterans during their transition from military to civilian life, it can also lend a helping hand in finding the services and resources for veterans struggling with physical, mental health, and substance abuse problems. What’s more, the veteran’s family can function as an important link to essential community support solutions, including veteran-specific government programs and organizations dedicated to helping veterans find stable footing in their civilian life.10

What Employment Resources Are Available to Veterans During Their Transition From Active Military Service To Civilian Life?

For veterans actively searching for employment opportunities and resources, make sure to inspect the options listed below. With some help, it’s possible to find stable employment when transitioning to a civilian lifestyle:10

  • Veterans Employment Center: This is a one-stop resource center established by the government in order to provide career opportunities for both the veterans and their families.11
  • VetNet: This is a digital platform established with the goal of assisting service members who are transitioning from military to civilian life with preparing for meaningful post-service careers.12
  • USAJOBS: This is the official website for all federal job opportunities.13
  • US Department of the Treasury: This organization offers veterans and service members wounded during the course of their service different unpaid internship opportunities.14
  • US Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development: This organization provides resources and counseling for all veterans with the goal of succeeding in their entrepreneurial intentions.15

Frequently Asked Questions