The transition from military to civilian status is about more than taking off the uniform. It’s a change in nearly every aspect of life for service members and their families.
It is an obstacle that spans generations of veterans and it doesn’t seem to get easier as time goes on. In a survey published on the website military-transition.org, 76 percent of veterans — regardless of age — agreed when asked if their transition to civilian life was stressful.
Author Matthew J. Louis found, in research for his seminal book “Mission Transition,” that more than 80 percent of post-9/11 veterans feel the general public doesn’t understand the unique problems they face in transitioning to civilian life. Sadly, data from the U.S. Department of Defense tells us that, at the current rate, military suicide totals will be 23 times higher than the number of post-9/11 combat deaths within 10 years.
Veterans who experienced combat are also at an increased risk for transition struggles, as 46 percent of those individuals said they had a difficult transition experience in a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center, compared to 18 percent who didn’t face combat.
Logic dictates that finding sustainable employment early in the transition process can be a stepping stone to a smoother experience. Yet, this is an uphill battle for many after concluding their military service. Louis also found that more than 80 percent of civilian organizations have no veteran-specific recruiting programs.
Transition-experience stressors, such as lack of employment, may in turn serve as catalysts for other post-service challenges, such as mental health issues, housing insecurity, and substance abuse.
Rising to the challenge
In response, various veteran-serving organizations (VSOs) have risen to the challenge of assisting and supporting those facing difficult transition experiences and other hurdles that appear as a result. While it is difficult for VSOs to head off a stressful transition before it happens, the most effective ones are adept at providing veterans with individualized support and resources that empower them to pursue brighter futures.
Depending on the severity of a veteran’s transition struggles, a VSO can be an outlet for a wide array of support systems, from food, shelter, and employment assistance, to life coaching, connection to counseling, and access to telehealth services during the process. Many VSOs strive to make their services as seamless as possible for veterans, communicating with them over email and phone, or even face-to-face (less prevalent but still an option during the pandemic era).
No one who has served this country should ever feel alone. Sadly, that’s far too often the case during the transition from military to civilian status. Whether they have the capacity to serve many or few, VSOs can provide a lifeline that helps veterans find their way back to a healthy, positive and productive path.