Health is veterans’ biggest challenge in first year home

(Credit: Getty Images)

Health concerns are the most important readjustment challenge facing veterans in the first year after they leave military service, according to new research.

Every year, more than 200,000 US service members transition out of military service. While many go on to have productive and fulfilling lives, researchers have called for greater attention to the military-to-civilian transition experience, suggesting that some military veterans may have difficulty securing meaningful employment, meeting health care needs, and successfully integrating within civilian society.

To provide a descriptive picture of veterans’ health and well-being in the first year after leaving military service based on their gender, military rank, and deployment history, researchers studied more than 9,500 veterans.

The researchers surveyed the veterans on their health, work, and social relationships within three months of leaving the military and then six months later. Among the findings: former enlisted personnel reported poorer outcomes on nearly all areas of well-being compared with officers, whereas deployed veterans reported poorer health and female veterans acknowledged more mental health concerns compared with their nondeployed and male peers.

“While many veterans indicated they had a chronic physical or mental health condition and were less satisfied with their health than other important aspects of their lives, many reported that they had found a job, were satisfied with their work and were well-integrated within their broader social communities,” explains corresponding author Dawne S. Vogt, research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division at the  National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

According to the researchers, the fact that veterans reported the poorest well-being in the health domain points to the importance of addressing veterans’ health concerns at the time they leave military service, especially regarding chronic pain, sleep, anxiety, and depression.

“Given that some conditions may be in place prior to separation, it may also be necessary to bolster pre-separation health screening and intervention efforts,” adds Vogt.

Since scientists know health problems erode broader well-being over time, the finding that many veterans reported chronic health concerns may have contributed to another key study result, which was that the proportion of veterans reporting good work functioning declined over the first year after leaving military service.

“These findings point to the value of targeting intervention to at-risk veteran subgroups and implementing interventions before veterans’ readjustment challenges worsen or have the chance to erode their broader well-being. This recommendation may require a fundamental re-thinking of how veteran programs prioritize efforts, as most transition support currently focuses on the needs of veterans with the most acute or chronic concerns.”

The findings appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc managed this research. The Bob Woodruff Foundation, Health Net Federal Services, The Heinz Endowments, HJF, Lockheed Martin Corporation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Northrop Grumman, Philip and Marge Odeen, Prudential, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Rumsfeld Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Walmart Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, Inc., and the Veterans Health Administration Health Services Research and Development Service sponsored the work.

Source: Boston University