It has long been known that the transition from military to civilian life can be a major challenge for servicemembers. Now a new research report by The Pew Research Center has identified the characteristics making a successful transition to civilian life easier. The report’s author, Rich Morin, looked at the effect of 18 variables on the likelihood of 1,842 servicemembers to have an easy time exiting the military. The results were surprising.
Exposure to traumatic events and being seriously injured top the list for the factors most likely to negatively impact a successful military-to-civilian transition. Troops experiencing traumatic events were 26 percent less likely to have an easy transition than other soldiers. Similarly, seriously wounded veterans were almost 20 percent less likely to experience a smooth exit from the military. What the research makes clear is that the mental toll of both these events significantly impacts the ability of veterans to re-enter civilian life. Related factors making military-to-civilian transition more difficult were exposure to combat and knowing someone injured/killed in combat — making an easy transition seven and six percent less likely, respectively.
Probably most surprising result: marriage actually made transitioning to civilian life more difficult for veterans. Post-9/11 veterans who were married while in the military were 15 percent less likely to have an easy military-to-civilian transition than single veterans. In an article in Stars And Stripes, Morin said that the strain of multiple deployments over the last decade is likely the reason why married veterans had a hard time successfully transitioning to civilian life.
Interestingly, race, age, having young children, and number of deployments had no effect on the successful transition of a servicemember.
What factors made the transition easier? Being a college graduate made an easy re-entry the civilian world five percent more likely. Officers also had a better time, with their exit being 10 percent more likely to have an easy transition than enlisted troops. Having a clear understanding of the mission helped, again making the transition 10 percent more likely to be easy. The characteristic with the greatest beneficial effect on the military-to-civilian transition? Religion. Veterans with strong religious beliefs were a whopping 24 percent more likely to have an easy time re-entering civilian life than other veterans. If nothing else, this result shows the power of strong social circles and communities at helping veterans reestablish themselves as civilians.
Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.