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Veterans May Face Tough Post-Iraq Readjustment

U.S. soldier in Iraq
A U.S. Army sergeant walks through walks through a scrap metal site in the Abu Al Kaseeb area of Basra, Iraq, March 23, 2010. (Image credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adelita Mead)

Concurrent with the announcement that U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq by Dec. 31, a new report highlights the difficulties soldiers often have returning to civilian life.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,853 veterans, 27 percent say re-entering the civilian world was difficult for them. That proportion swells to 44 percent among veterans who served in the 10 years since 9/11.

Religion assisted veterans in civilian-life readjustment, the survey found, while experiencing a traumatic event or becoming injured made it harder for soldiers to make the transition.

Of all the veterans surveyed, 72 percent said it was "very" or "somewhat" easy to return to civilian life. Six percent said the transition was "very difficult," and 21 percent said it was "somewhat difficult."

Veterans who served in the post-9/11 era, however, were 15-percent-less likely than other veterans to readjust easily to life out of the military (77 percent of pre-9/11 veterans adjusted easily, compared with 62 percent of post-9/11 veterans). Some of that difference could be because recent veterans are closer to their experience, the Pew Center noted, while veterans from earlier eras may have the benefit of time altering their perceptions.

Soldiers were 26-percent-more likely to struggle if they'd experienced trauma, and 19-percent-more likely to struggle if they had been seriously injured while on duty. Knowing someone who was killed or injured increased the likelihood of a difficult transition by 6 percentage points, while serving in combat increased the difficulty by 7 percentage points. [Remembering the Fallen: Memorials Gallery]

College graduation, being an officer (rather than an enlistee) and understanding missions made the transition smoother, the researchers found, as did religious faith. College graduates were 5-percent-more likely to face an easy transition. Officers and those who understood their missions, compared with those who didn't, were 10-percent-more likely to revert to civilian life with ease. And religion increased the likelihood of a smooth transition by 24 percentage points.

In a surprising result, post-9/11 veterans who were married during their service struggled more with re-entry to civilian life. Being married while serving reduced the likelihood of an easy transition from 63 percent to 48 percent.

The reason, according to Pew, may be in the stresses that military life puts on family. Almost half of post-9/11 veterans who were married said that deployment had a negative impact on their spouse. This 48 percent who didn't have an easy transition were significantly more likely than other veterans to have experienced family problems after leaving the military. Veterans who said deployment didn't negatively affect their marriage were no more likely than single vets to have trouble transitioning to civilian life.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.