Military Life Narratives and Identity Development among Black Post-9/11 Veterans

December, 2020

This article explores cultural competence within the military and how subcultures with distinct identities form within the military. Within this context, the article explores in particular the impact of these ideas on the identity and mental health care of veterans of colour.


Military culture is heterogenous and comprised of various subcultures with their own distinct military identity. The call for cultural competence has remained ubiquitous within the mental health field for decades, and a great need exists to provide increasingly culturally sensitive and informed mental health care for Black veterans. The purpose of this phenomenological study was twofold: (a) to privilege the diverse experiences of Black military veterans and (b) to advance a theory of Black veteran identity development to assist mental health professionals in further comprehending the psychosocial needs of Black veterans. Twelve Post-9/11 veterans who identified within the Black diaspora were interviewed about their service and post-service experiences, which resulted in the following four themes. (a) keep pushing/suck it up demonstrated an inclination among Black servicemembers toward emotional restraint and limited self-disclosure when answering emotionally-activating questions related to deployment and the impact of systemic discrimination within the military, (b) family orientation/communalism: “I’m sticking with the community” described how many consistently expressed their own identity in terms of family attachments or community affiliations. This communalistic approach is furthered in (c) seeing green/colorblindness. As many veterans reported, green was the only color seen, referring to the deindividuation process that unfolded for them during service including in regard to their Black identity. However, those holding multiple marginalized identities reported being highly subject to substantial discrimination, and as a result, described the military through the lens of (d) no protective cloak/microcosm of American society. Also elicited were several essential chapters comprising the military life cycle for Black veterans. This model provides an initial framework for understanding the Black veteran identity, consisting of distinct tasks and intrapsychic negotiations to be made before the Black servicemember/veteran can proceed onto the next stage. An additional theme, understanding blackness requires a cultural fluency, provides critical implications for behavioral health providers in working to become better attuned to their Black veteran patients’ needs. In describing their Blackness as “unique and dynamic,” these participants encourage providers to “go beyond the symptoms,” and instead to privilege their unique sociohistorical and identity specific factors in kind.

Full Reference

Hall, D. M., Rings, J. A., & Anderson, T. (2020). Military Life Narratives and Identity Development among Black Post-9/11 Veterans. Journal of Veterans Studies, 6(3), 36–46. DOI:

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