Veterans Report Health as Their No. 1 Worry

Health concerns are the most important readjustment challenge facing veterans in the first year after they leave military service.

Every year, more than 200,000 U.S. 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.

In order 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 veterans were surveyed 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 non-deployed 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,” explained corresponding author Dawne S. Vogt, PhD, research psychologist in the Women’s Health Sciences Division, 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,” added Vogt.

Since health problems are known to 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 online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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