Transition To Civilian Life | Veterans Mental Health & SUD Concerns

Helping Veterans With Military Transition to Civilian Life

Veterans struggle with readjustment after they leave the military and return to their families, friends, and communities, making them more vulnerable to mental health problems and substance use.


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As veterans rejoin civilian life, many face challenges that can be difficult to overcome. Some of these challenges during transition from military to civilian life include finding employment, adjusting to a life outside the military structure and dealing with various physical and mental conditions such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).1

Veterans are at a particularly higher risk of developing mental health issues or addiction due to their experiences in military service. There is growing evidence that reintegration challenges after deployment are a major major connection between veterans and substance abuse. A SUD is diagnosed in approximately 10% of veterans seeking medical care in the VA system for the first time.2

Fortunately, there are many organizations that specialize in helping veterans transition from military to civilian life. These organizations provide a variety of essential services to support veterans during this process.3

Many state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations, have set up Military Transition Assistance Programs that can offer financial assistance for housing, education, job training and counseling to help veterans transition successfully. Other services include medical and mental health care, help in connecting with other veterans and community resources, legal services and financial planning.3

In this article, we will explore the various resources designed to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

What are the Most Common Military To Civilian Transition Challenges?

Making a successful transition from the military to civilian life is not easy and can often include various challenges. Some of these military to civilian transition challenges include:1

  • Adjusting to the transition to civilian life after experiencing military culture: Military service can be a drastically different experience than civilian life. Veterans may find it difficult to adjust to the lack of structure or understand how to use their skills in a different context.
  • Finding and securing employment: Many veterans struggle with job searches due to outdated resumes and/or difficulty articulating their unique skills and experiences. For others, these military to civilian transition challenges include returning to the former place of employment. It may take some time for the veterans to catch up on work, learn new skills, or adjust to a new position. It may also require adjusting to social changes at the workplace.
  • Developing meaningful relationships: Making friends and being part of a community can be difficult for veterans, who have had to adjust to different people or environments on a regular basis.
  • Managing finances: Military personnel are typically provided with a steady stream of income, which they must learn to manage on their own when they transition from military to civilian life.
  • Provision of basic necessities: During service, necessities such as food, housing and clothing are provided by the army. One key difficulty transitioning from military to civilian life is adjusting to obtaining these. In the military, not only are these things provided, but there are often very few choices you eat at set times in certain places, duty station dictates your dress).
  • Reconnecting with friends and family: The military can be an isolating experience, and it’s not uncommon for veterans to have difficulty reconnecting with friends and family after they transition to civilian life.
  • Obtaining basic services: The transition from military to civilian life may require veterans to learn how to get doctors, dentists, life insurance, etc. The military previously provided these services. Veterans may also need assistance navigating the VA benefits and service processing.

In What Ways do Transition Stress and PTSD Affect Veterans?

Transition stress and PTSD can both have significant impacts on veteran transition to civilian life. PTSD is a mental health condition caused by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events, which may include military combat, violence, accidents, natural disasters, and other situations. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks and intrusive thoughts about the event, extreme feelings of fear and anxiety, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and avoidance of situations or people that remind them of the event.4

Transition stress is a state of distress caused by significant life changes, such as transitioning from military to civilian life. This transition can be difficult for veterans as they are often unable to find jobs quickly after leaving the service, and may struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation without their fellow service members.5

Transition stress and PTSD are two distinct mental health issues that can affect veterans, but they have important differences. Veterans who have experienced trauma during service may be more susceptible to the effects of PTSD than to transition stress, as trauma can be a major contributor to the development of this condition. Furthermore, PTSD and transition stress can both lead to similar issues, but the symptoms of each will vary depending on the individual’s experience.5

For veterans, the transition from military to civilian life can be extremely stressful due to a variety of factors, such as financial worries, not having access to the same support network, and feeling disconnected from their family and friends. Additionally, veterans who have experienced trauma during their service may find it even more difficult to cope with this transition. PTSD and transition stress can contribute to a variety of issues, such as depression, substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, relationship problems, and anxiety.4

Age is also an important factor when looking at the differences between PTSD and transition stress in veterans. Older veterans may find the transition to civilian life even more difficult than younger veterans due to their increased age and decreased job prospects. Additionally, older veterans may be more likely to suffer from PTSD due to their increased exposure to traumatic events over the course of their long military careers.6

What Mental Health Challenges Do Veterans Face During Their Transition To Civilian Life?

The transition to civilian life presents a number of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders (SUDs). It has also been found that 63% of Afghan and Iraq veterans with SUD are also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2

Active military personnel and veterans have much higher suicide rates than civilians. It is essential to assist veterans in the transition from military to civilian life since they account for nearly 20% of all suicides nationwide in 2014, the equivalent of 20 suicides every single day.2

What are the Effects of Substance Abuse on Military Transition to Civilian Life?

Substance abuse is a significant problem for returning service members when they transition to civilian life. Drugs and alcohol may temporarily relieve stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and combat injuries in service members. As a result, veterans may be more susceptible to substance abuse disorders.7

According to The Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans are more susceptible to developing substance abuse issues if they face one or more of these military to civilian transition challenges:7

  • They have a drug or alcohol abuse history.
  • They have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • They are dealing with mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • Their adjustment to civilian life is difficult.
  • They feel lonely and isolated.
  • They are struggling with employment or housing.

Substance abuse, however, exacerbates the situation. It may lead to financial instability, relationship problems, and legal issues.7

Transitioning Veterans’ Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment

To help with their transition from military to civilian life, veterans have access to a variety of programs and services. The MISSION Act authorizes VA facilities or community care providers to provide them directly to veterans.8,9

As a result of the MISSION Act and community care, veterans have access to a wide variety of health care providers. In certain circumstances, eligible veterans may be able to receive healthcare from community providers. The American Addiction Centers (AAC), for example, may be able to provide treatment to those suffering from substance abuse disorders (SUDs) or mental illness in their local area.

As an example, Desert Hope Treatment Center offers a Salute to Recovery program. Desert Hope Treatment Center is a leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that helps veterans transition to civilian life by offering a broad range of services such as safe medical detox, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, and dual diagnosis treatment. As well as offering veteran transition assistance to retired military personnel, Desert Hope’s staff is highly experienced and committed to helping their patients recover from addiction. The treatment center accepts most major insurance carriers such as Tricare, and their admissions navigators can help verify whether your policy will cover the costs of treatment.

What Is The Veteran Transition Assistance Program?

Veteran Transition Assistance provides counseling, courses, and training sessions to help military personnel adjust to civilian life after active duty. It provides guidance and support as military personnel search for new careers and helps them transition to civilian life.3

As part of the Transition Assistance Program, veterans receive pre-separation counseling. Besides providing guidance on finding a new career, financial planning, and health care, counseling can also help veterans prepare for life after the military. As well as helping service members adjust to a new school or education, the transition assistance program can assist them with financial difficulties, finding employment and reconnecting with their families.3

How Family Support Helps Veterans Transition From Military To Civilian Life

Family plays an important role in the transition from military to civilian life, but each veteran will have a unique set of needs and challenges. Relationships can be strained for some veterans, due to their difficulty communicating with loved ones about their military or combat experiences.10

As veterans transition from military life to civilian life, families must support and understand them. It is best to be patient, open, and willing to assist with readjustment. Families can also assist veterans in reintegrating by connecting them with community resources.10

What are some Employment Resources that Can Help Veterans Transition?

We have listed all the employment resources available to veterans. If you need a little assistance with your transition to civilian life, the following resources may be of help:

USAJOBS. This resource lists federal job openings for veterans.11

Veterans Employment Center. Assists veterans, transitioning service members, and their families with finding jobs and careers.12

Office of Veterans Business Development at the US Small Business Administration. Assists veterans in starting, growing, and succeeding as entrepreneurs.13

VetNet. Online platform that assists veterans in finding employment after their transition from military to civilian life.14

Frequently Asked Questions



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