How to Adjust from Military to Civilian Life
Military service takes a toll on servicemen and women. The return to civilian life after service can be just as daunting. Men and women returning to civilian life after military service face various challenges.
Fortunately, many resources and support networks are available to veterans in the United States. Navigating the transition back to normal day-to-day life outside of military service may seem daunting for some. Veterans return from service oftentimes facing challenges that range from managing physical disabilities to experiencing the mental and emotional impact of military service.
Veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life may find support through several resources. Generally, servicemembers can find resources related to healthcare to education that will help individuals acclimate to post-military life. Accessing the support and resources available to military veterans is crucial for many returning from active service.
Invisible Wounds of War
The psychological effects of military service can be extensive. Approximately one in 10 Afghanistan veterans and one in five Iraq War veterans are impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1 The impact that PTSD and other psychological disorders can have on veterans returning to civilian life can be devastating at times.
PTSD in veterans can be caused by several factors. Given that servicemen and women are often in high-intensity situations while on the job, it makes sense that many veterans return from their service with the invisible wounds of war.
The effects of PTSD can make it difficult for veterans to readjust to civilian life. Individuals with PTSD may face additional mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, alcohol, drug abuse, or thinking about harming themselves or others.2 These mental health problems can contribute to feeling lonely or detached from loved ones upon the end of military service.
Veterans with PTSD may also experience problems in their home life, at work, or in physical health.2 The weight of mental health is a struggle that many veterans face when returning home. Identifying some of the common signs of PTSD can help start the conversation with a mental health provider about seeking support.
Common Symptoms of PTSD include:2
For veterans experiencing PTSD or another mental health condition, seeking treatment is essential for readjusting to civilian life. It is important to note that both combat and non-combat veterans have the potential to develop PTSD – non-combat stressors can play a large role in the disorder.1
Additionally, the transition from military life to civilian life can also contribute to PTSD in veterans – as having an entire community and way of life can leave veterans feeling alienated from their fellow service members. Regardless of the root cause of PTSD, veterans suffering from symptoms of the disorder should start the discussion with a professional or trusted individual to begin healing.
Challenges to Entering Civilian Life
There are a variety of common challenges veterans may face during re-adjustment to civilian life. Readjustment can be rather daunting for some service members. Veterans face unique challenges that civilians may not fully understand upon returning home.
Understanding and building the right support systems can make the transition easier. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has collected a range of common challenges veterans face upon re-adjusting to civilian life.
Common Challenges Veterans During Readjustment:3
Navigating post-military life presents unique challenges for veterans. It can be difficult to feel you need to navigate the transition to civilian life alone. Feeling removed from the community and structure that the military provides can be isolating. Veterans who are feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the transition to civilian life may find support through reaching out to mental health resources and providers that have experiencing assisting veterans with the transition process.1
What Makes Readjustment Challenging?
Various factors may make the readjustment to civilian life more challenging for veterans.4 Research has identified variables from PTSD to gender that can make the return from service more difficult.
While it may seem obvious that challenges such as mental health disorders and physical injury adjust to civilian life harder, it is important to identify how veterans can identify what challenges they are facing to create barriers to establishing a healthy and secure life as a civilian. For some, the challenges they face may need external treatment or support – this can help combat isolation and emotional distress.
In general, veterans who have experienced trauma or have the symptoms of PTSD are more likely to face challenges when readjusting to civilian life as opposed to veterans who do not share the same mental health disorder. Serious injuries and experiencing traumatic events during active service are regular – approximately one-third of all veterans have said they experienced an emotionally traumatizing event.4
According to polling data of veterans, individuals who suffered from an emotionally distressing or traumatic event during their service were 26% more likely to face difficulty when re-entering civilian life.4 Additionally, veterans who served after September 11, 2001, had marital problems due to their service or experienced a severe injury faced more challenges during the re-adjustment to civilian life.4
Women's Struggles with Civilian Life
Some studies have also indicated that women veterans may face challenges upon returning to civilian life. These challenges can often be attributed to women’s compounding challenges in the workforce. While female veterans face the same challenges of general re-adjustment that men face, they also face challenges unique to women.
Female veterans are more likely to encounter pay gaps, financial instability, bias against mothers, gender-related health concerns, stereotypes, and other stressors that contribute to challenges post-military.5 Women also experience feelings of disconnection and isolation upon returning to civilian life.
Many women veterans may find difficulty re-establishing themselves in their former community or home. The compounded stress and challenges facing women can feel incredibly difficult. However, there are additional resources for women struggling to reintegrate into life as a civilian.5
Benefits to Entering Civilian Life
Upon their return to civilian life, veterans will often find significant resources. For many, this may mean returning to school or better healthcare coverage. While navigating and accessing benefits can seem overwhelming, studies have shown that if veterans can successfully tap into their benefits, they are likely to ease the transition to civilian life.6
For many veterans, access to resources like education can increase their access to careers and opportunities in society. By obtaining skills that may be more easily translated to civilian jobs, veterans can increase their potential to gain meaningful employment after the military.6
In addition, younger veterans attending school and receiving an education also increase the potential for building a sense of community with peers. While the data for post-September 11th veterans remain understudied, conclusive data recognized education as a stepping stone towards a successful civilian life in previous studies.6
In addition to veterans’ education benefits, healthcare benefits are also available through the VA. Generally, the VA serves as a comprehensive medical care system addressing mental and behavioral disorders. The VA aims to provide timely and high-quality health care to veterans.
In many cases, this access to health care is invaluable as veterans return to civilian life with various medical challenges.7 Many veterans may not have had access to quality health care before serving in the military. For so many veterans, the VA is a strong resource in readjusting to civilian life by working with professionals to address the veterans’ specific needs.
Support for Veterans
Undoubtedly, the transition to civilian life can pose several challenges for veterans. After spending time in the military, many individuals may be accustomed to the structure and community that the military offers service members. Additionally, many veterans may return from service facing the effects of PTSD or a serious physical injury. In any case, it is essential for veterans to feel supported during their transition.1
Veterans who have access to support networks and resources generally find it easier to re-adjust to civilian life. However, it is understandable that many veterans may not speak up about their concerns for fear of being stigmatized or receiving judgment. The resources available to veterans cast a large range for former servicemen and women to receive their support.
Feeling a sense of community is a big part of veterans readjusting to their lives as civilians. Veterans may have the option to build communities through family ties, new civilian jobs, education, or even support groups. These communities can be essential for the overall well-being of returning veterans.1
For veterans, it is important to understand that if you are struggling – you are not alone. As mentioned previously, there is a wide array of resources available to veterans through the VA or other means. If you feel overwhelmed or distressed from the transition to civilian life, there is help. It is highly recommended that you reach out to people you trust to express your concerns.
Mental Heath Help for Veterans
Transitioning from military life to civilian life can be challenging. Seeking the assistance of professionals who have a demonstrated history of working with veterans can be essential. Talking your concerns and apprehensions over with people who can help can be comforting and a solid first step toward a healthy and happy civilian life.
If you or a veteran you love are struggling with mental health, reach out to Solara Mental Health today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our veteran’s mental health program.
- Dickerson, K. (November 2015). Soldiers returning home are faced with a heartbreaking problem most people don’t understand. Retrieved from. https://www.businessinsider.com/veterans-face-a-huge-problem-most-people-dont-understand-2015-11
- National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). Understanding PTSD and PTSD treatment. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/understandingptsd_booklet.pdf
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Veterans employment toolkit. Retrieved from
- Morin, R. (December 2011). The difficult transition from military to civilian life. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2011/12/08/the-difficult-transition-from-military-to-civilian-life/
- Madison, N. (n.d.). Women leaving the military face extra challenges – but they don’t have to do it alone. Retrieved from https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2022/03/30/women-leaving-the-military-face-extra-challenges-but-they-dont-have-to-do-it-alone/
- Wenger, J., and Ward, J. (n.d.). The role of education benefits in supporting veterans as they transition to civilian life. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PEA1363-4.html
- Farmer, C. and Tanielan, T. (n.d.). Ensuring access to timely, high-quality health care for veterans. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT508.html