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Research Summary / June 2017

Veterans’ Identities and Well-Being in Transition to Civilian Life: A Resource for Policy Analysts, Program Designers, Service Providers and Researchers

For many years, researchers have been trying to understand what happens to a military member’s sense of identity (i.e., who and what he or she is and how one relates to society) after release from the military.

What is this Research About?

Despite the amount of identity research which has been conducted over the past century, few studies looked at Veteran identity. Because identity challenges can explain the distress people feel during major life transitions, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) engaged in research to understand military identity to order to inform Departmental programs and supports for Veterans and families as they move from military to civilian life.

What did the Researchers Do?

VAC, in partnership with Health Canada and the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research formed a research working group to focus on military identity. The working group was made up of 10 academic clinical experts from four nations. Based on their combined expertise and a literature review on the topic, the group produced a report that provides an overview of basic knowledge about Veterans’ identities, synthesized knowledge about the connection between social identity and well-being and provided examples of how identity knowledge is being put to use in real-life situations.

What did the Researchers Find?

  • People form social identities based on their memberships in various social groups and the value that they attach to those memberships
  • Major life transitions like releasing from the military challenge people’s identities because they must interact with new social groups that may have different norms, values and beliefs
  • A Veteran’s ability to manage his or her identity during the military to civilian transition is important to his or her understanding of who they are, how they function in society and their overall well-being 
  • Successful transition requires learning to identify in a positive way with civilian social groups and integrating those identities
  • Peer support is important in helping Veterans deal with identity challenges
  • Reactions to identity changes during transition are considered to be normal, but can be complicated by or contribute to mental health issues
  • Veteran well-being can be better supported as civilians and service providers better understand and become sensitive to Veterans’ identities, especially in terms of recognition. 


Thompson JM, Lockhart W, Roach MB, Atuel H, Bélanger S, Black T, Castro CA, Cox D, Cooper A, de Boer C, Dentry S, Hamner K, Shields D, Truusa, TT. Veterans’ Identities and Well-being in Transition to Civilian Life – A Resource for Policy Analysts, Program Designers, Service Providers and Researchers. Charlottetown (PE): Veterans Affairs Canada Veterans’ Identities Research Theme Working Group, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research Forum 2016. Technical Report; 01 June 2017.

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