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This Research in Action article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

More than 200,000 individuals leave military service each year and face the challenges of readjusting to civilian life. Sociologist Jay Teachman and his colleagues at Western Washington University study the employment, health and family lives of veterans of World War II, the Vietnam War and the most recent military eras.

From the studies, patterns emerged that detailed disadvantages among post-Vietnam-era veterans in educational and occupational attainment compared to their civilian peers. But these gaps vary by military branch, length of service and demographic group. 

Military service does not appear to lead to better physical health, perhaps due to higher smoking and alcohol consumption, Teachman says.

Noncombat active-duty veterans experience better mental health than civilians and reservists. But the differences are less apparent after military discharge. Active-duty members of the military are more likely to choose marriage and these marriages tend to be more stable when compared to similar civilian populations. "Men in the military are much more likely to marry than their civilian counterparts, and they're less likely to divorce," Teachman said. Once members of the military complete active duty, their divorce rates run comparable to civilian rates.

The research team hopes the studies will help policymakers, health care providers and employers better understand and serve the needs of veterans.

Editor's Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.