Veterans Return to Civilian Life Unprepared, Survey Shows

A majority of service members leave the military facing a variety of unmet needs resulting in a difficult transition to civilian life, according to a new University of Southern California study of veterans living in Los Angeles County.

The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study,” by the USC School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families, found that more than two-thirds of more than 1,350 veterans surveyed reported difficulties adjusting to civilian life, with 69 percent of post-9/11 veterans indicating they needed time to figure out what they would do after the military.

One overarching finding is that veterans’ needs cannot be met by a single organization. The study found many veterans leave the military with a host of uncertainties complicating their transition home:

  • nearly eight in 10 veterans left the military without a job, expecting to quickly find meaningful employment;
  • about 40 percent of veterans left the military unsure of where they would be living; and
  • many leave active duty with untreated physical and mental health issues, a problem that is more prevalent among post-9/11 veterans. Among recent veterans, one-third had made a plan to commit suicide but did not seek help, compared to 24 percent of pre-9/11 veterans.

“The main thing we learned with this study is that separating service members leave the military, and they enter civilian communities with a myriad of issues. There is not a singular need. No one says, ‘I just need a job’ or ‘I just need housing,’” said Carl Castro, lead author and assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work. “Similarly, we have to take a multiple, holistic approach to helping veterans transition.”

Key recommendations — which generally called for a coordinated approach with the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, and local civic and community organizations — in the report include:

  • expanding the military’s mandated transition program, which veterans are required to take prior to exiting the military, that could focus on ensuring veterans have lined up a job and housing in their community; and
  • a robust community public awareness campaign that would include family and friends of returning service members to address some of the main barriers to accessing care, such as identifying assistance programs and reducing the stigma around health care, especially mental health.

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