Challenges of Transitioning from Military to Civilian Life


Life as an active-duty military member is difficult, challenging, and sometimes even dangerous.  Yet, the transition out to civilian life can also be just as difficult. The transition from active-duty military to civilian life often comes with many adjustments for both the veteran and their loved ones.

Common Challenges

Soldier coming home

Some common challenges new veterans face as they readjust to life outside the military include:1

  • Reconnecting with family and establishing a role.
  • Trying to relate to others who might not understand what veterans may have experienced.
  • Joining a community.
  • Preparing to enter/reenter the work force.
  • Establishing a routine without the structure of the military.
  • Adjusting to a different pace of life and work.
  • Establishing new healthcare services previously provided by the military.

Each veteran is unique, and the challenges one veteran faces may differ from another. There are a variety of factors that can influence how difficult the transition to civilian life feels. These can include whether or not the service member:2

  • Was enlisted or an officer.
  • Is a college graduate.
  • Is religious.
  • Served in combat.
  • Experienced a traumatic event.

Veterans and Substance Abuse

To add to the challenges of transitioning to civilian life, many veterans also struggle with substance abuse. In fact, more than 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, a statistic that is greater than the general population.3 Research finds that this may be due to a number of factors.

For one, alcohol consumption has been a longstanding military cultural norm. It’s not uncommon for alcohol to be used for recreation, stress relief, and socialization at military events. These occasions often result in veterans engaging in heavy drinking or binge drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels over the legal limit (0.08 g/dL). This level is usually reached at 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in a 2-hour period. Heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking a total of 5 or more days in one given month.4 Binge drinking can lead to numerous problems including alcohol dependence, alcohol use disorder, and even death.5

The typical consequences of substance abuse only add to the challenges veterans often face when transitioning from military to civilian life.

Another factor is the misuse of opioids, which are often prescribed to service members and veterans for pain and migraine headaches.6 Opioids are among the most addictive prescription medications, and unfortunately those veterans who suffer from mental illness (such as PTSD) are not only more likely to receive opioid prescriptions but also to develop an opioid use disorder. 6

The typical consequences of substance abuse only add to the challenges veterans often face when transitioning from military to civilian life.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, warning signs of an individual with a possible substance abuse problem include:7

  • Not showing up to appointments.
  • Having academic or professional problems.
  • Showing signs of declining hygiene (e.g., not taking showers regularly).
  • Having family/interpersonal problems.
  • Changing sleeping habits.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed.
  • Eating more or less than normal.

If you or a veteran you know might be struggling with substance abuse, check out this substance abuse assessment offered by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).8

Substance Abuse Help for Veterans

Veteran in wheelchair holding alcohol

If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse, you have options. The VA offers both veteran substance abuse treatment and mental health services. Veterans struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, PTSD, sexual trauma, or substance abuse can receive services through the VA.

For veterans with substance abuse, levels of care range from rehab and inpatient substance abuse treatment to outpatient counseling.9 For those struggling with co-occurring disorders, like PTSD and alcohol abuse, the VA offers specialized programs.

While Greenhouse Treatment Center does not offer a specialized veterans’ program, other American Addiction Centers facilities do. Desert Hope Treatment Center located in Las Vegas, NV and Recovery First Treatment Center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL both offer treatment designed especially for veterans.

Our Salute to Recovery program is a comprehensive treatment path for military veterans struggling with substance abuse and other co-occurring disorders. Eligible veterans may be able to receive treatment at Desert Hope or Recovery First at low cost. Reach out to us today  at 972-848-0221 to see what a life of recovery can offer you.

Transition Assistance Program

The Department of Defense offers a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to assist active-duty military members in preparing for the next steps in their lives. TAP provides service members with the resources, tools, and skill-building training necessary to re-enter civilian life. Their curriculum prepares service members to pursue additional education, secure a job, or start their own business.10 With the help of TAP, veterans can reduce some of the burdens often felt during this transition process.

Employment Resources for Veterans

There are numerous resources for veterans who are seeking employment after leaving the military. These include:

  • Feds Hire Vets – a site dedicated to helping veterans find employment in the Federal Government.
  • Veterans Affairs – information on VA benefits, career and employment assistance, and managing a career.
  • U.S. Department of Labor – support to help veterans find employment and for employers to find veterans for hire.
  • VA Careers – information on transitioning to a career working for the VA as a veteran.
    • Application – VA job search and application forms.
    • Technical Careers – information on the Technical Career Field (TCF) program offered by the VA.
  • Employment Toolkit – outside resources for employers, managers, and human resources professionals.
  • Hire Heroes USA – free job search assistance for military members, veterans, and military spouses.
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America – an organization advocating for quality health care, spinal cord research, and VA benefits and rights for veterans with disabilities.

Veteran’s Preference

It may be intimidating for veterans to apply for civilian jobs, especially if they have no professional experience outside of the military. Fortunately, veteran’s preference exists and may be given to eligible veterans applying for Government employment. This preference exists to recognize the economic loss military members suffer when in active duty, place veterans in a competitive position as they seek work, and recognize a duty owed to disabled veterans.11

There are 3 types of preference eligibility: sole survivorship (0-point preference), non-disabled (5-point preference), and disabled (10-point preference).

Individuals are 0-point preference eligible if they were released or discharged from a period of active duty military, after August 29, 2008, and are the only surviving child in a family in which the mother, father, or one more siblings:

  1. Served in the armed forces, and
  2. Was killed, died as a result of injury/disease, is captured or missing in action, is permanently 100% disabled, or hospitalized on a continuous basis, where
  3. The death, status, or disability did not result from intentional actions or neglect on their part and did not happen during an unauthorized absence.

Individuals are 5-point preference eligible if their active duty service meets any one of the following:

  1. For more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, service during the period beginning September 11, 2001, and ending on August 31, 2010, the last day of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  2. During the Gulf War, between August 2, 1990 and January 2, 1992.
  3. For more than 180 consecutive days, other than for training, service after January 31, 1955 and before October 15, 1976
  4. Between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955.
  5. In a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign medal or badge has been awarded.

Individuals are 10-point preference eligible if they served at any time and meet one of the following:

  1. Have a service-connected disability.
  2. Received a Purple Heart.

For hiring companies using a numerical rating and ranking system to determine the best qualified people for a position, the additional 5 or 10 points will be added to that veteran’s overall score, but it will only be added to passing scores. When employers use a category ranking system, veterans with preference points are moved ahead of non-preference-eligible candidates.12

You can check to see if you or a loved one might be eligible for veteran’s preference by using this interactive tool.

Other Resources for New Veterans

Veteran with wife talking to doctor

There are many resources available for veterans as they transition from active duty to civilian life. Veterati is one place service members, veterans, and military spouses can go to find a mentor or become a mentor for someone else going through this process.

Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is another organization serving veterans and service members who incurred physical or mental injuries, illnesses, or wounds while serving in the military on or after September 11, 2011. WWP is fully funded and offers free services to those who are eligible.

The VA also highlights a variety of services offered to military members transitioning out of active duty. These comprehensive services include everything from homelessness services to caregiver support, healthcare and more.

The transition process can be incredibly overwhelming, but when you know where to look there are so many services to help you. If you need help with addiction, we’re here for you.

References:

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Common Challenges During Re-Adjustment.
  2. Morin, R. (2011). The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Substance Use and Military Life.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking Levels Defined.
  5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking.
  6. Teeters, B. J., Lancaster, L. C., Brown, G. D., & Back, E. S. (2017). Substance use disorders in military veterans: prevalence and treatment challenges. Substance Abuse Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are some signs and symptoms of something with a drug use problem?
  8. World Health Organization. (1997). The Alcohol Smoking, and Substance Involvement Screening Test.
  9. USA.gov. (2019). Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
  10. Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program. About DOD TAP.
  11. Office of Personnel Management. Veterans Services.
  12. Office of Personnel Management. Veteran’s Preference.


About The Contributor

Amanda Lautieri
Amanda Lautieri

Senior Web Content Editor, American Addiction Centers

Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for Greenhouse Treatment Center. She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and... Read More


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