Understanding ‘Negative Transitioning’ in British Ex-Service Personnel: End-of-Award Report


This research addressed three measures of negative transitioning, mental ill-health, imprisonment and homelessness, using a sample of 323 respondents from all Services across the UK and in the support sector, with two extended case studies which addressed veteran prisoners and ex-prisoners in Scotland and homelessness in Birmingham.


The report, Understanding ‘Negative Transitioning’ in British Ex-Service Personnel, was conducted by a research team from the Senator George J Mitchell Institute at Queen’s University Belfast led by Professor John Brewer. The study is one of the largest UK qualitative studies to examine the experiences of veterans who make a negative transition to civilian life. The researchers explored three measures of negative transitioning in the 323 people they interviewed: homelessness, imprisonment, or mental ill-health. They found that overall, these individuals face the same challenges as other ex-Service personnel, but lack psychological resilience and the economic means to deal with them. While the majority of Service leavers make a successful transition to civilian life, a minority are known to struggle. The study found the reasons for a negative transition are not limited to operational experiences whilst serving, but due to multiple factors including pre-service experiences, age of enrolment, rank, capability to make decisions, over-institutionalism in the military and the effectiveness of support services. The study found that negative transitioning particularly affects low rank veterans who are more likely to join the military from difficult or disadvantaged backgrounds, with the career in the military providing an opportunity to improve their outcomes. However, the research suggests that the Armed Forces can fail to adequately prepare Service leavers which can result in a lack of the emotional, cultural, and social skills needed to ensure that the life they ‘escaped’ from is not the one they return to. The research also identified several local and regional services which support veterans who have a difficult transition, highlighting the importance of local knowledge, resources, and facilities in improving outcomes for veterans and their families. The researchers recommend a greater focus on local support provision, whilst calling for more collaboration and cooperation between support providers on a national and regional scale to ensure no Service leaver’s needs are left unmet.

Full Reference

Queen's University Belfast, 2022. Understanding ‘Negative Transitioning’ in British Ex-Service Personnel. John D Brewer and Stephen Herron Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.