What the public should know about veterans returning from combat deployment to support reintegration: A qualitative analysis

April, 2021

This paper explores the reintegration challenges veterans may face when returning from combat. Further to this, the paper discusses what civilians should know about this process and what they can do to support veterans during this time.


Consensus reports have called for interventions to educate civilians about the reintegration challenges that veterans experience. The current study describes veterans’ perspectives of what the public should know and what the public can do to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life. We conducted thematic analysis of written essays from a stratified random sample of 100 US veterans (half women, half deployed from National Guard or Reserves) from Afghanistan and Iraq military operations who had participated in the control writing condition from a randomized controlled trial of expressive writing to improve reintegration outcomes. Veterans described a military-civilian divide that makes reintegration difficult and recommended that the public help bridge this divide. The divide was attributable to the uniqueness of military culture and bonds, the personal changes associated with deployment, and the time it takes for veterans to reacclimate. Five themes captured what the public can do to foster veteran reintegration: understand deployment hardships; appreciate deployment accomplishments; assist veterans in getting professional help; listen, don’t judge; and recognize that employment is critical to reintegration. Themes were present across groupings by gender, type of military service and screening status for posttraumatic stress disorder. Findings can inform interventions that target the public’s understanding of and response to returning veteran. Consistent with an ecological model of reintegration, such interventions have the potential to foster successful reintegration.

Full Reference

Sayer, N. A., Orazem, R. J., Mitchell, L. L., Carlson, K. F., Schnurr, P. P., & Litz, B. T. (2021). What the public should know about veterans returning from combat deployment to support reintegration: A qualitative analysis. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 91(3), 398–406.

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