VETERANS' MENTAL HEALTH and CAREER DEVELOPMENT: Key Issues for Practice

By Zalaquett, Carlos P.; Chatters, SeriaShia J. | Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

VETERANS' MENTAL HEALTH and CAREER DEVELOPMENT: Key Issues for Practice


Zalaquett, Carlos P., Chatters, SeriaShia J., Career Planning and Adult Development Journal


Due to the recent drawdown in armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces have significantly reduced the number of service men and women in the United States (Crawford, 2015; Schogol, 2015). Service within the armed forces is usually associated with good mental health. Current research indicates that many veterans and service personnel do well after they return to civilian life (Kitchiner & Bisson, 2015). However, a significant number of veterans do suffer from mental health issues that require treatment and support; and several of these veterans present with multiple concerns (Strong, Ray, Findley, Torres, Pickett, & Byrne, 2014). This is important because greater psychosocial stress can lead to poorer mental health (Bonde, 2008). Adjustment problems can lead to financial problems; in turn, financial difficulties can lead to adjustment problems (Elbogen et al., 2012). Multiple psychosocial stressors like income, employment, or depressive symptoms can increase the risk for heart disease (Thurston & Kubzansky, 2007).

The increased number of veterans entering the civilian workforce denotes a need to understand how to facilitate their transition from active military service to civilian life. This transition includes changes to their home, work, and social environments, as well as psychosocial stressors such as unemployment, which can negatively impact their social, emotional, and psychological well-being.

In this article, we aim to address veterans' issues with transition to the civilian workplace and its' impact on their mental health, and work and career activities.

Work and Mental Health

There is a strong connection between the jobs, careers, and working environments of people, and their health and well-being (Abele-Brehm, 2014; Strauser, Lustig, & Çiftçi, 2008). Work defines us and understandably so, as we spend a third of our lives in this activity. Work is more than just a way to sustain us financially and can be an excellent therapeutic experience for those with personal adjustment problems. On the negative side, work-related stresses can produce psychological damage. Issues such as unemployment, underemployment, or work instability usually produce problems of living and negatively affect mental health. The converse is also true, as mental health issues can have detrimental impact in our capacity to find and sustain work related activities (Strong et al., 2014; Zalaquett, 2010).

There are indicators within the research that this connection can be more significant for active duty servicemembers and veterans due to the structure, rigid set of guidelines, standards, values, and morals indicative of indoctrination into the Armed Forces (Coll, Weiss, & Yarvis, 2011). The loss of this connection, in addition to any mental health issues exacerbated by a soldier's indirect or direct involvement in wartime conflict, can significantly impact a veteran's transition to the civilian workforce (Coll et al., 2011). Disgruntled individuals can upset any work environment; job complexities can negatively impact a person's mental health; and unsafe and stressful workplace tax the physical and mental well-being of individuals (Zunker, 2008). These issues compounded with the stress of transition (Ahern et al. 2015), periods of unemployment (Faberman, & Foster, 2013), and stigma (DeViva et al. 2015) experienced by veterans highlights the importance of considering both career development and personal development to understand the impact of mental health issues on work and career decisions in veteran populations.

Number of Veterans Entering the Civilian Workplace

Over the past decade over 2 million veterans have been discharged (honorably, uncategorized, general) from the armed forces (Carney, 2014). Specific groups of veterans, such as veterans under the age of 35, over the age of 55, or veterans suffering from a physical disability or mental health issue, may find the transition to be considerably more difficult (Williamson & Mulhall, 2009). …

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