For Veterans, Readjusting to Civilian Life Presents Challenges

The general public typically has a healthy appreciation for members of the military and, in particular, those who are deployed overseas and/or serve on combat missions. But what the average American doesn’t realize is just how difficult it can be for veterans to readjust to civilian life after their careers in the military are over. Unfortunately, this can be one of the hardest parts of military life.

The Biggest Challenges for Veterans

The transition from military life to civilian life may look simple and appealing, but it can be rough for those experiencing it firsthand. According to a Pew Research Center survey of nearly 2,000 veterans, 27 percent of veterans say re-entry to civilian life is “difficult.”

In other words, more than one out of every four veterans finds it hard to readjust to life outside of the military – a striking statistic when you consider that the average member of the military retires in their 40s and still has 30 or 40 years of civilian life ahead.

The Pew Research study shows that the ease of re-entry is closely connected to factors like traumatic events, injuries, combat service, education, and job title. But looking past individual characteristics, it becomes clear that these are the biggest challenges with re-entry across the board:

  • Relationship with spouse. Data from the Pew Research study shows that being married while serving actually reduces the chances of an easy re-entry from 63 percent to just 48 percent. This is the result of significant challenges and friction that emerge during deployment and then must be dealt with upon return. Over all, reentering family life – with or without kids – can be a major struggle. The soft skills associated with fostering healthy relationships can be difficult to cultivate after years of focus on technical skills.
  • Dealing with disability. Thousands of veterans leave the military each year with varying levels of physical and psychological disabilities. Unfortunately, the VA has made it very challenging to quality for VA disability compensation. As a result, getting the right care is difficult and requires veterans to play a waiting game that’s characterized by paperwork, appointments, and applications.
  • Getting a job. Most veterans don’t retire for good. Instead, they simply retire from the military and begin careers in the civilian world. While high-ranking officials and select officers have no trouble leveraging connections to obtain employment, others find this to be one of the single-most challenging aspects of transitioning. Finding a civilian job may require a veteran to learn new skills, obtain additional education, or even adjust to new workplace norms that feel unnatural.
  • Building community. This isn’t something that gets discussed much, but it’s a real challenge. Veterans are used to setups in which community is built for them and they simply have to participate. In civilian life, 100 percent of the onus is on the individual to make friends, build connections, and develop a social life. For people who are only accustomed to spending time with people in the military, this often proves difficult to do. At the very least, it feels unnatural.
  • Creating structure. Finally, the majority of veterans struggle with creating structure upon returning home from the military. They’re accustomed to settings in which rigid schedules and assignments dictate every minute of every day. When veterans realize that there’s no formal structure in civilian life – outside of work and other isolated environments – they feel uneasy. It takes time to get over living in an environment with ambiguity.

These are just a few of the challenges veterans face. Depending on the amount of time served and the experiences during service, an entire new list of challenges could emerge in addition to these. Dealing with them requires great care.

Fostering a Smoother Transition

Every individual responds to circumstantial factors differently and there’s no perfect solution for guaranteeing a smooth reintegration into civilian life. However, the more we – meaning military spouses, loved ones, business owners, politicians, lawmakers, friends, neighbors, military officials, etc. – work together on this issue, the less friction will exist in this transition.

At the very least, now is the time for constructive dialogue on the topic of “life after the military.” By shining a spotlight on this issue, creative ideas can be brought to the forefront and progressive change can ensue.