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A Well-Being Construct for Veterans’ Policy, Programming and Research

Executive Summary

Citation: Thompson JM, MacLean MB, Roach MB, Banman M, Mabior J, Pedlar D. Charlottetown PE: Research Directorate, Veterans Affairs Canada. A Well-Being Construct for Veterans’ Policy, Programming and Research. Research Directorate Technical Report. 07 September 2016.

In legislation, the mandate of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) extends to the administration of such acts and orders in council relating to “(i) the care, treatment or re-establishment in civil life of any person who served in the Canadian Forces … and (ii) the care of the dependants or survivors of any person referred to in subparagraph (i)…”Footnote 1. VAC’s Plans and Priorities report identifies “well-being” as one of the Department’s re-establishment strategic outcomes but a clear description of the concept is lacking. Lack of a commonly accepted definition of well-being has hampered progress in developing and measuring outcomes of VAC policies and programs.

This paper describes the Veterans’ well-being construct that emerged at VAC over the past decade in a consensus-seeking, multidisciplinary process informed by reviews of published literature, expert consultations and evidence from the Life After Service Studies (LASS). The objective of this paper is to describe the well-being construct and place it within a conceptual framework with utility in (1) the development and evaluation of policy, programming and service delivery and (2) research in Veterans’ issues. The goal is to support the well-being of Canadian Veterans and their families in life after service.


VAC conducted internal multidisciplinary consultations and additional literature reviews during 2015-16 to clarify a well-being construct. The work was informed by the 2013 Veterans’ Well-Being Conceptual Framework, the Life After Service Studies findings, literature reviews conducted for the Road to Civilian Life research program, participation in an expert panel on military-civilian transition (MCT) in Los Angeles in March 2016, and published MCT theory.


A variety of well-being constructs have evolved in various disciplines, including psychology, sociology and economics. Some are subjective, where people are asked how they are doing (e.g. psychological well-being), others are objective, based on observing how people are doing (e.g. income). Composite types combine both.

The type favoured for VAC’s business is a composite well-being construct measured subjectively and objectively across seven key areas of life: employment and meaningful activity, finances, health, life skills and preparedness, social integration, housing and physical environment and cultural and social environment.

This report describes a theory of well-being which says that well-being is the result of a process in which a person is influenced by determinants in each of the domains of well-being. Determinants can enhance or worsen well-being so that well-being fluctuates across the life course in response to prior and current determinant influences. Identification of factors that influence well-being suggests interventions, policies and programs which can promote the effect of positive influences and mitigate the effects of negative influences. A persons’ well-being at a point in time is assessed by combining subjective and objective indicators for each of the domains that both describe well-being (descriptors) and assess factors influencing well-being (determinants). Some indicators can be used as outcome measures to assess the effectiveness of interventions, policies and programs.

Conceptual Framework for Planning Policy and Programs

The well-being construct described in this paper is then used as a core concept in a conceptual framework designed specifically for the problem of designing policy and programs to support Veterans’ well-being during MCT and the remaining Veteran life course. The three core concepts in the construct are (1) well-being as described in this report, (2) life course from cradle to grave, and (3) the roles of Veterans and their families on the one hand, and the public and private sector on the other hand.

Good well-being is proposed as an ultimate strategic objective for Veterans’ policy and programming and as a measure of successful transition. For example, an overall strategic objective for policy, programs and services could be “that Veterans experience good well-being”. Strategic objectives are suggested for each well-being domain.

Identification of determinants that influence well-being at various stages of life suggests interventions, policies, programs and services that might be required to enhance well-being.

Well-being indicators can be used to segment the population across a range of need hierarchy, ranging from good well-being (most), to potentially precarious (some), to being in crisis (fewest).

An adaptation of the conceptual framework is described for focusing on planning well-being supports in the particularly intense peri-release period of military-civilian transition, that MCT segment just before and after release.

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