Transitioning out of the Military: Issues and Solutions
Transitioning out of the Military: Issues and Solutions. One of the issues facing retired veterans is the transition to civilian life. The veterans in the United States are a multifaceted population that has a distinct culture related to values, beliefs, ethos, customs, codes of conduct, selfless duty, obedience to command, and implicit communication patterns. For these veterans, they have completed their military commitments and returned to civilian life that has a different cultural complexity from military life. During their time in service, the military personnel gave up their educational pursuits and were distanced from their family and friends. On completion of their military commitments, the veterans have to deal with the challenges of re-establishing the relationships with their friends and family and even taking up tasks that they left behind. In essence, this creates a complex challenge for veterans especially because they have to deal with other issues such as homelessness, post-service unemployment, and limited access to benefits and services. The compounding of the different problems may also lead to mental health problems thus creating an array of complex needs. While there are programs that help veterans adjust to civilian life, some of the veterans are not aware of the existence of the services or have limited access to the services and programs.
The Transition Problem
The adjustment to civilian life following the completion of military service is a stressor to veterans, and this is because it takes away the comfort of the structured life in military installations. During military service, the soldiers undergo acculturation and training that are directed towards raising the mental and physical readiness for combat deployment. The military culture involves the separation of the individual from civilian life, and this often interrupts the level of contact with friends, family, as well as the popular culture (Hermes, Hoff, and Rosenheck, 2014). The life of the soldiers is usually in combat zones or within military installations. Soldiers have access to health care, housing, youth, child, soldier and family programs, as well as school services. The different services are provided to ensure that the soldiers are protected from civilian life stresses and hence can focus on the mission. The environment around them is also highly regimented since they are expected to follow orders and adhere to discipline and structure that is uncommon in civilian life. The return to civilian life following the completion of military service means that the veterans have to forego the comfort of the structured and stress-free environment to one of the uncertainties.
The transition to civilian life becomes a challenge since veterans have to deal with the stressors that emanate from their new environment. The movement from a highly structured environment to a civilian lifestyle with less structure often leads to frustration and is very stressful as the veterans adjust to the new normal. The new environment requires that the veterans reconnect with their family and friends that they have not seen in years or decades, seek new employment, and connect to the services they need for their civilian support (Smith et al., 2017). The acclimation to the civilian lifestyle is also part of the challenge since the transition is viewed as a movement from one culture to the next. As some veterans have pointed out, the psychological impacts of the transition period emanate from the lack of a decompression period. While veterans from the World War II had a decompression period of about six weeks, veterans in the modern context move from the battlefield to the civilian life in three days (Tanielian et al., 2016). In light of such an abrupt movement, the psychological effects on the veterans are negative, and this impacts their mental wellbeing. Employment is one of the biggest stressors for this population group, and this is because most of the individuals do not have jobs before exiting from service and only search for employment after the transition.
The veteran population is growing, and this means that there is an increased strain in resources directed towards helping veterans transition into civilian life. Coupled with the increasing stressors in their environment, the veterans often face mental health issues that make the transition challenge complex and profound. Veteran medical records indicate that one in three patients has a mental health disorder which implies that 41 percent of veterans have behavioral adjustment issues or mental health problems (Olenick, Flowers, and Diaz, 2015). The veterans’ exposure to mental health issues is an outcome of the different stressors during their transition into civilian life. Not only do the stressors lead to mental health issues, but they also subject the affected individuals to substance use disorders as well as suicidal behavior. Substance use disorders, as well as mental health issues, are also influenced by the stressors of the military service. Veterans that have experienced traumatic events during their military careers develop combat fatigue that is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (Hoffmire, Kemp, and Bossarte, 2015). The compounding of different factors during the transition to civilian life exacerbates the mental health issues that the veterans face within their new environment. In light of this, the transition from military to civilian life is a stressing period in the life of a veteran and one in need of the right interventions to ensure an effective and successful transition.
Policy and Programs Dealing With veterans mental issues
Transitioning out of the Military: Issues and Solutions
One of the policy approaches employed in dealing with mental issues facing veterans during the transition phase is the Re-Engage policy. The Re-Engage policy program introduced in 2012 requires that all Veteran Affairs sites implement a care management program directed towards veteran with mental illnesses. The focus of the program has been on areas with gaps in continuity of care since patients are likely to experience early mortality rates. The policy has effectively been applied in helping veterans deal with mental health issues especially as regards schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (Kilbourne et al., 2014). Effectively, the increase in the number of veterans seeking out the program indicates a positive inclination towards services that seek to improve the transition process. As of 2013, 8.9 million veterans were utilizing the health care system by the Veteran Affairs, and this reflects less than half of the total veteran population (Olenick, Flowers, and Diaz, 2015). This indicates that a substantial part of the population still does not have access to these services. The implication is that while the policy may have helped some veterans deal with mental issues in the transition phase, it is still yet to impact a large number of the population.
Another form of intervention directed towards the veterans in the transition phase relates to financial benefits and services offered at the state and federal level. The financial benefits are expected to help veterans transition effectively by extending some level of stability through funds that can help them in daily sustenance. Even with the existence of such interventions, some of the veterans are not aware of the existence of these services. As an example, Tanielian et al. (2016) note that veterans in Detroit did not have awareness or access to the financial and medical benefit services that are vital in the transition process. The indication is that whereas the services are available, the visibility is limited and this affects the effectiveness of the programs directed towards assisting the veterans in the transition process. Some veterans have access to these services but also cite other limitations. As an example, the average amount of money received by veterans in Michigan in 2014 from the federal government is $5700 which is below the average of $7364 per veteran in the US (Burke, 2015). The implication is that some veterans receive a lower amount of funding compared to others and hence may be incapable of managing their pertinent needs during the transition phase.
In helping the veterans seek employment as civilians, the Transition Assistance Program has been established with a focus on preparing the individuals with the skills for success as civilians. The Transition Assistance Program seeks to ensure that the veterans have the right skills around interviewing for a job, writing a resume, and even writing cover letters. While the program has been a success for some of the individuals, it has not been as much help to others. One veteran, Mathew Suber, who served in the U.S. Air Force for over five years notes that one of the problems with this program is that it does not address how to translate what they have learnt and achieved in the military into something of value (USC, 2017). The problem lies in the lack of a program that helps them translate their skills into something valuable for the civilian employer (Cooper et al., 2016). The implication is that the presence of these programs does not always guarantee a successful transition since the programs and services may fail to address the inherent needs of the veterans.
In alleviating the problem, one approach lies in increasing the visibility of the services available to veterans during the transition period. The United States has created financial and medical benefit programs for veterans, and while some are aware of these services, other lack the knowledge and access to the services (Pina et al., 2015). Considering that the veterans are in dire need of support services to help them in the transition phase, the Veteran Affairs department should increase the visibility of these services to veterans. The approach will ensure that the affected individuals have access to the medical and financial benefits that support veterans in the transition process.
Within the health-care sector, the ability to address the unique healthcare needs of the veteran population is dependent on the incorporation of veteran-specific content in the curriculum. The physical condition of veterans is affected by various factors that emanate from the military as well as civilian life. Ensuring the incorporation of veteran-specific content will help ensure that health providers can address the complex health needs of the population influenced by the wartime periods, behavioral and mental disorders, and obstacles in the reintegration phase (Olenick, Flowers, and Diaz, 2015). The integration of veteran-specific content to the healthcare discipline is essential based on the fact that veterans seek medical intervention from veteran as well as private medical facilities. An integrative curriculum will ensure the provision of excellent care to veterans thus addressing their mental and physical needs and facilitating their successful transition to civilian life.
Another effective approach to addressing transition is linking up the veterans to the transition programs before their exposure to civilian life. One of the challenges highlighted by veterans is that access to the existing benefit programs is cumbersome due to the need to navigate the national and local rules governing the benefits. As noted by one veteran, it took him one year to access benefits after being shot in the chest, and this is due to the documentation needed and the complex system in the VA (Tanielian et al., 2016). In light of this, beginning the transition phase before retirement from service can help alleviate some of these challenges due to the availability of the veterans’ documentation at the Veterans Affairs even before retirement. In effect, the outcome will be an efficient process that will help veterans access their benefits easily and hence have a smooth transition process.
The transition from military service to civilian life comes with complex challenges as the veteran tries to re-establish with his/her life before service. Some of the challenges that the veterans face revolve around reconnecting with family and friends, finding employment, and accessing their financial and medical benefits. The complexity of these challenges leads to mental health issues that make the transition phase highly tasking. While services and programs have been established to deal with various challenges faced by veterans, some of the services do not effectively address the underlying problem. Some of the solution approaches lie in increasing the visibility of the services, beginning the transition before retirement, and having a health curriculum that is specific to the mental and physical needs of the veterans. The application of such recommendations will deliver a smooth transition process for veterans into civilian life.
Burke, M. N. (2015). Thousands of Michigan veterans miss out on benefits. Detroit News. Retrieved from http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/31/thousands- michigan-veterans-miss-benefits/70752468/.
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USC. (2017). Service members speak out on difficulties of transitioning to civilian life. Retrieved from https://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/transitioning-out-of-the-military/.