Identity Adjustment Among Afghanistan and Iraq War Veterans With Reintegration Difficulty

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Abstract

Objective: To examine perceptions of identity adjustment in a diverse, national sample of U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Method: The authors conducted a planned thematic analysis of text written by Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans when they were asked to describe their reintegration difficulties as part of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of online expressive writing (Sayer et al., 2015). Participants were 100 randomly selected veterans from the larger study (42 women and 58 men, 60 active duty and 38 reserves or National Guard). Results: Nearly 2/3s of participants wrote about their identity adjustment. The 5 interrelated areas of identity adjustment difficulty were (a) feeling like one does not belong in civilian society, (b) missing the military’s culture and structured lifestyle, (c) holding negative views of civilian society, (d) feeling left behind compared to civilian counterparts due to military service, and (e) having difficulty finding meaning in the civilian world. The authors did not observe differences by gender. However, those deployed from active duty were particularly likely to feel as if they did not belong in civilian society and that they had not acquired needed skills, whereas those deployed from the reserves or National Guard experienced difficulty in reestablishing former civilian identities. Conclusions: Identity adjustment is a critical yet understudied aspect of veteran reintegration into community life following combat deployment.

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