Problem/background: According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 200,000 service members transition from military to civilian life each year. The military-to-civilian transition is recognized as a complex and dynamic process. Despite the efforts of current transition programs, service members continue to experience adjustment challenges and psychosocial stressors. These challenges were aggravated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic due to high unemployment rates, a nationwide housing crisis, as well as lack of access to medical care as the medical community’s focus shifted to addressing the acute needs of the pandemic.
Theoretical framework: Three theories provided the framework surrounding the concepts of adaptation, transitions and social identity. Sr. Roy’s adaptation model assumes the human as an adaptative system, where behaviors are the result of coping. Meleis’ theory of transitions views transitions as complex and acknowledges the changes in identities and patterns of behavior. Lastly, Tajfel & Turner’s social identity theory assumes that a person’s self-concept is based on their membership in a group.
Methods/implementation: A cross-sectional, phenomenological project was completed. Volunteers were recruited through a local nonprofit, military transition support referral agency. Convenience sampling resulted in n=10 veterans who recently transitioned (March 2020 and July 2021) from active duty military service to civilian life. An 8-question semi-structured interview with probing questions was conducted via Zoom. Emerging themes developed and a phenomenological analysis was completed through a selective approach.
Results: Despite a small sample size, race and ethnicity diversity are well represented, as 50% identified as other than white. Other demographics captured include rank (80% enlisted, 20% officer), separation type (70% involuntary, 30% voluntary), branch of service (90% Navy, 10% Marine Corps), level of education (40% completed bachelor’s degree or higher, 60% with some college), and gender (60% male, 40% female.) Ages ranged from 23-38 (mean 31.5 years) and years of service ranged from four-14.5 years (mean 9.8. years). Four emerging themes were identified: who am ?, dual identity, social isolation, and civilian life: for better or for worse.
Discussion: Identified limitations in this project include a small sample size as well as participant and student bias. Participants enrolled in the military transition support program may be better prepared than those who did not. Translating the emerging themes into practice include monitoring for other life transitions and providing supportive interventions and referrals. It is also imperative that service members transitioning to civilian life have appropriate care coordination to ensure continuous access to medical and mental health, before, during, and after this complex transition. In understanding the implications of military service throughout life, it is vital that veterans are identified through the American Academy of Nursing’s “have you ever served?” campaign. Furthermore, it should be more broadly acknowledged that the VA and the Department of Defense require the support of community clinicians to ensure veteran-centered and culturally sensitive care is provided across healthcare systems.
MS, MBA, RN, AMB-BC,
Nurse Educator, New Jersey War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center,
Veterans Health Administration