Veterans' reintegration with civilian life

High rates of sexual assault and mental/physical conditions prevent veteran’s reintegration into civilian life, study finds.

A La Trobe University survey of almost 200 former members of the Australian Defence Force has flagged criteria that can be used to predict those who will find it difficult to adjust to civilian life.

Issues like being at the frontline and sexual trauma increase reintegration difficulties. In the study one in five reported sexual assault.

The study, led by Kylie Carra, from the La Trobe Rural Health School in Bendigo and published in the journal, Military Psychology, found that factors leading to a veteran having adjustment difficulties included:

  • Being between ages 30-49 years.
  • Lower rank at discharge.
  • Discharged in previous 6-8 years.
  • Current emotional distress or poor physical health.
  • Completion of operational service and increased exposure to combat or military sexual trauma.

While those who more easily transitioned to civilian life tended to be employed and participated in sport and outdoor activities, voluntary work, and social and community activities.

According to Ms. Carra, the personal and societal costs of a difficult adjustment are high, “with adverse outcomes including homelessness, unemployment, suicide, family breakdown, criminality, and incarceration of former service members with untreated mental health conditions,” Ms Carra said.

“Screening for those who might have difficulties and assisting them in managing distress or their physical health could reduce the risk of adverse outcomes for our returned service personnel.”

Service-related health conditions, including depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, substance misuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can impede adjustment and community re-integration during transition.

In the study, 198 former members of the ADF who transitioned on or after January 1, 2004, completed the survey.

Almost 70% of the participants were younger than 60 years of age. Four in five identified as male, and almost 80% were married or in an interdependent relationship, and almost half lived in a rural area.

Two thirds served with the Army or Army and one other branch of service, with 67% serving for at least 10 years and 80% deployed on operational, peacetime and/or humanitarian service.

According to Ms. Carra, the study revealed that exposure to combat and military sexual trauma were associated with a difficult adjustment.

“The experience of psychological trauma before, during, and after service seems to be particularly critical to adjustment outcomes –with time spent in operational service increasing rates of problematic trauma exposure,” Ms Carra said.

“Almost one in five participants had experienced military sexual trauma, which also predicted a more difficult adjustment.”

Ms. Carra said that the study’s finding of both sexual assault and physical and mental health conditions predisposing veterans difficult adjustment to civilian life, should flag these groups as a high priority for individualised transition support programs.”

Contact the La Trobe University Media Team