I think my transition evolved over a period of years. When I joined HMP parts of the military lifestyle were still replicated such as time keeping, uniform, rank and structure. It wasn’t until I moved into academic life that the flexibility of time keeping and structure became apparent. This leads to me to think that whatever occupation you go into when leaving the military may influence how our transitions develop and how long it takes. This may also explain why so many service leavers enter uniformed occupations such as HMP, Police Paramedics etc, as the cultural shock of leaving all your recognised visual and structure reference points are replicated within the new civilian role.
When working with practitioners I always encourage them to ask why someone joined the military in the first place as this may give an indictation of transition challenges. For instance, if someone joined up from a difficult background and their personal need is to feel as if they belong or have a family around them that cares, which of course is a human need and relates to Maslow, when they leave the military does that mean they may feel as if they’re losing the family they found to satisfy their personal need. That could for some induce feelings loss around family, social network and feeling supported by those who understand. A reference to the “civvies don’t understand statement I mentioned earlier. Also, when people walk out of the gates for the last time, for most their social network is still inside the wire. SO many find they need to establish a social network in their 20’s/30’s or sometimes 40’s. Add to this feeling that the core values are not quite the same in civvy street, many can feel like a fish out of water but not be able to quite put their finger on it. A pre discharge briefing around adjustment is a definite need here for service leavers and their families.
You raise an interesting point – how do we measure success/a successful transition? I conducted research examining the histories of 50 ‘successful’ veterans – success being self-applied by the veterans themselves and generally, after discharge from military service, equated to the absence of the usual and known negatives. Some or all of: no job, no home, marriage breakdown, alcoholism, drug abuse trouble with the law, unable to maintain relationships generally and poor physical and mental health especially a feeling of loss of identity.
Parallel to this there are well established life stage theories against which one can observe convergence or divergence from established norms. Plucking a life stage from the curve, by age 40-45 a civilian male, for example, will have pretty much found his place in life workwise, will know himself (self-identity) and his limitations, some if not most ambitions will probably have been met, he will not be looking to change his occupation and will have an established home. It is the huge divergence from this generalized norm that is often the lot of the time served 40 year old, 22 year soldier, sailor or airman (or woman) which can be problematic. Transition is a change of life at 40; what I termed in my work on ‘The Military Mental Pause’.
There is also consideration of the individual circumstances of the veteran before they enlisted, were they employed for example in civilian life or did they have pre-existing psychological conditions which the nature of military service may have ‘masked’? For those who worked before enlistment, transition can be different to those who did not because they are ‘returning’ to the workplace.
In terms of an actual metric there are several published papers, mostly from the US on the topic and this one a found useful.
The Veterans Metrics Initiative study of US veterans’ experiences during their transition from military service | BMJ Open
Links to my own research available if you are interested.