“Half the Battle” surveyed young veterans (ages 18 to 29) and their non-veteran counterparts to learn what each group thought about veterans transitioning from military service to civilian life. Here is a sampling of the answers they provided to the following open-ended question: 

What is the biggest challenge that a young military veteran faces in readjusting to civilian life in the United States?

Photo by Chris Young

Photo by Chris Young

What young vets said:

– Settling in, networking.

– PTSD, wanting to work again or socializing.

– Isolation.

– Not having as much camaraderie with those they work with.

– Choosing his/her next career path.

– Feeling as if they are not understood by others and the lack of structure.

– Fitting in and being understood. You feel like you’re still in the military mentally but have to try and train yourself to think as a civilian.

– [Being] too proud to ask for help.

– Listening to people who have never been out of the country talk about how the U.S. should handle foreign affairs.

– Drinking.

– Finding people that understand what you’ve been through.

– Turning my constant awareness of everything off.

– Military skills do not transfer to civilian life. Essentially you come home as an unskilled worker in a bad economy.

– Going from positions of responsibility where lives depend on your decisions to dealing with a position where what you do has little effect.

– Civilians. They have no idea what military life is like, what combat is like, and are just annoying.

– For me it was adjusting to all the young students who complained about everything. Once you could be used to that classes were a breeze compared to war.

– Not having clear direction or goals.

What non-vets said:

– Finding employment, understanding and applying for military benefits they may be entitled to. Socially dealing with people who think (or have come to think) that the war was unjust (both liberal and conservative). Feeling like they have to justify their service

– Flashbacks/PTSD

– Biggest challenges: Being able to relate to others their age who didn’t serve in the military, readjusting to day-to-day life, dealing with PTSD symptoms, which seem to be more common than before.

– Not having the rigid structure they have become accustomed to.

– Transitioning from a high-pressure, high stakes environment that is mostly male.

– Adjusting to a world where honor and integrity aren’t instilled in every civilian.

– Going from living in fear of being shot all the time to being surrounded by people whose main concern is what to eat for dinner that night.

– Stigma.

– Knowing what to do with their life when they get back: Go to college? Get what kind of job? Live where? Etc.

– PTSD, trying to get back to a “normal” life rather than fearing for your life at every turn.

– They’ve seen death and dealt with war. They won’t look at the world the same way.

– I think that the biggest challenge for veterans would be coping with the things they’ve seen and/or done during war. For example, if someone sees his/her best friend get killed, that image is burned into his/her mind forever, and it would be hard to handle that.

– Not being appreciated for his sacrifices.

– Joining or creating a community. Creating structure.

– Post-traumatic stress disorder, combined with cultural whiplash (how you are supposed to act to succeed in the military vs. what skills and traits allow you to succeed in civilian life, combined with fighting the U.S. bureaucracy to get care/benefits.

– Dealing with PTSD, especially when it’s not taken nearly as seriously as it should be.

– Remembering who you were before

– Inefficient care for PTSD and other health issues.

– Being treated as an outcast

– Finding a job and translating their military skills to civilian jobs.

Editor’s note: These survey responses have been edited for grammar and spelling.

This project, produced by journalism students at American University, explores the experiences of young veterans as they transition from soldiers to citizens.

Word Clouds From Veteran Survey

What did you miss the most about home?
What did you miss2

Why did you enlist?
Why did you enlist in the military.

From soldier to civilian - what problems did you face?
Challenge of transitioning to civilian life

What difficulties did you face upon returning to college?
Difficulties on returning to college

Word Cloud From Non-Veteran Survey

What challenges do vets face coming home? Non-vets

Top 5 questions veterans told ‘Half the Battle’ they hate being asked:

- Did you kill anyone?
- Do you have PTSD?
- Did you see anybody die?

- Did you get shot at?

- Was it hot?

SOC Logo long