The View from Someone Else’s Boots, "The Importance of Family Relationships towards the Probability of Civilian Workplace Success with Transitioning Veterans"

Military Family

A recent PEW study titled, "The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life," surveyed 1,853 male and female 'post 9/11' veterans to discover their perspectives on the level of difficulty associated with transitioning and readjusting from the military to civilian life. The results of the study produced some startling data...

One of the most interesting messages from the study was many of the distinctive factors that represented veterans that had experienced the most difficult time readjusting vs. those that encountered the least amount of challenges. Representing some of the variables that produced the easiest transitions were: those that were college graduates, those that understood their post-military missions, former officers and those with some strong religious backgrounds. Those that shared the most difficult transitions were: veterans that experienced a serious traumatic event, individuals that were seriously injured, those that were married during their military service, those who actively served in combat and those who actually knew someone that was seriously injured or killed.

From the various data, one has to wonder how marriage during a person's time in service would contribute to complexities associated with making a smooth transition to civilian life? The producers of this study also found these findings awkward and counterintuitive, as the widely assumed notion of marriage during challenging times (such as military deployments) would present more personal foundation and stability. One would probably believe that a military person's spouse or partner would experience more benefits, serve as inspiration and represent more of a resource for support and comfort, right? Wrong.

In fact, the study findings were quite the opposite... "Post-9/11 veterans who were married while in the service were asked what impact deployments had on their relationship with their spouse. Nearly half (48%) say the impact was negative, and this group is significantly more likely than other veterans to have had family problems after they were discharged (77% vs. 34%) and to say they had a difficult re-entry.

Among those married while they were in the service, about six-in-ten (61%) post-9/11 veterans who had experienced marital problems while deployed also had a difficult re-entry. In contrast, about four-in-ten veterans (39%) who reported that deployments had a positive or no impact on their marriage say they had problems re-entering civilian life—virtually identical to the proportion of then-single post-9/11 veterans (37%) who experienced difficulties re-entering civilian life. Taken together, these findings underscore the strain that deployments put on a marriage before a married veteran is discharged and after the veteran leaves the service to rejoin his or her family."

Another thought-provoking aspect of the survey accounted the impact of PTSD towards their transition process. The overall survey showed that overall just under half (43%) found their transition to be "easy," while the majority shared other experiences. From the remaining survey another 29% say re-entry was “somewhat easy.” But an additional 21% say they had a “somewhat difficult” time, and 6% had "major problems" integrating back into civilian life. These results were also heavily influenced and distinguished by veterans that included PTSD flashbacks and distressing memories vs. those who did not. Also according to the study, serving in a combat zone reduces the chances that a veteran will have an easier time readjusting to civilian life (78% for those who did not serve in a combat zone to slightly more than 71% for those who did).

While both of these conclusions to the study are intriguing, they also shed some light on some possible support areas, where employers may focus some of their efforts to ensure success with recruited transitioning veterans. The main issue that drives the business case is to help mitigate potential problems that can lead to homelessness, absenteeism, depression, domestic disputes, declines in productivity and ultimately high employee attrition rates.

The following 5 suggestions are some recommendations to help improve family and marital relationships among transitioning employees, both with PTSD challenges and among those without.

  1. Offer volunteer family counseling and be prepared to offer similar outside resources for help
  2. These efforts help to address domestic issues and prevent relationship disruptions that can lead to divorce and marriage upheaval. Once a person is deployed for a period of time, many of the roles and responsibilities naturally change within the household. Normal communication patterns are often altered and people absolutely need flexibility and time to attend rehab, professional counseling and medical appointments. They also need time to re-discover each other and settle on reconciling potential uneven levels of cultural growth and personal development. Intimacy issues are also common with those who live with PTSD. Positively encourage people to be patient with each other.

  3. Recognize signs of trouble
  4. If an employee is experiencing domestic challenges, he or she will often convey signs of frustration and despair at work. Technically speaking, considering a person's typical 8-hour work day, an employee spends 1/3 of their time at the workplace and this allows them to develop close bonding relationships that reveal personal feelings.

    These feelings can exhibit signs of distress, fatigue and result in consistent tardiness that may develop from late night disagreements, arguments, problems from PTSD challenges and altered sleeping arrangements.

    If a person knew someone that was seriously injured or killed, allow the person time to grieve and communicate. Refer them to various veterans groups that can offer better forms of empathy and understanding.

    If a person is experiencing or communicating these types of personal challenges, please remain impartial, maintain a person's confidential disclosures and allow them the person time and flexibility (without punitive measures) to spend more quality time with their spouse towards solving challenges. Do discourage the person from any forms of substance abuse and self-destructive behavior, do keep a workplace journal of extreme behavior or communicated domestic skirmishes, alert an HR representative as soon as possible, as well as contact close relative of the person in the event that you suspect any suicidal ideations. Refer the person to the suicide prevention hotline (800) 273-8255.

  5. Encourage participation in corporate employee resource groups and support programs.
  6. Encourage the person and the spouse (if possible) to participate in groups with other people that share similar personal circumstances. This often helps them to gain from the perspectives and experiences of others.

  7. Encourage the employee to incorporate healthy practices
  8. Healthy practices can consist of developing better communication skills through books, media and documentaries. It can also include suggestions for proper exercise, rest and nutrition. Increased sugar, caffeine and processed foods have been proven to exacerbate certain mental-health conditions and joint exercise and meditation programs can help ease tensions. Encouraging a share of the household work-load and speaking with finance counselors can chart couples on the right track. If possible, encourage spiritual and religious participation in the organization or resource of their choice.

  9. Encourage the hiring of a spouse or family relatives
  10. When more family stakeholders are vested into the interest of the organization, it provides more time together, more things in common (to positively discuss) and reduces the likelihood of absenteeism and attrition.

Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed tof the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.