Researchers examine why health and social services go unused by new veterans

Returning to civilian life can be challenging for veterans. While there are many programs and services aimed at helping them readjust, some veterans do not take advantage of these supportive resources. A Penn State-led research team examined factors that are associated with program non-use among veterans who recently left active duty service.

The research appears in the Journal of Social Service Research.

According to lead investigator Keith Aronson, associate director of the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State, successful transitions from military life require veterans to function well in various well-being domains including employment, education, health, and social relationships.

“Veterans vary with respect to the difficulty or ease with which they reintegrate to civilian life,” stated Aronson. “It’s not yet clear what factors contribute to how the transition plays out.”

One factor appears to be the extent to which veterans make connections to their community, including tapping into the plethora of resources available to support them.

The researchers examined almost 10,000 veterans identified through the Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense Identity Repository (VADIR) to evaluate their use of services within the first three months of their transition to civilian life. Veterans were asked 37 questions about programs they had used since leaving active duty service.

A large majority of veterans (89 percent) had not used any programs designed to improve their social functioning or connectedness. Slightly more than half (51 percent) of the veterans had not used any programs in the legal/financial/housing domain, while 40 percent did not use any vocational programs, and 37 percent had not used a health program or service.

“The two most common reasons veterans reported not using support resources were that they did not need help or were not sure if they were eligible to use the programs,” reported Daniel Perkins, founder and principal scientist at the Clearinghouse and co-author of the research paper.

The researchers further discovered that program nonuse was most common among those veterans who are at highest risk, such as those veterans from the lowest enlisted ranks, who have more reintegration challenges and fewer resources than veterans from higher ranks. Additionally, female veterans and veterans from the lowest enlisted ranks were more likely to report that they did not know if they were eligible for support programs.

Veterans with ongoing physical or mental health problems were also significantly less likely than their healthy peers to report using supportive programs. A small percentage of veterans indicated they had not found the right program or did not know where to go to get help.

“Veterans need clear information about available programs, eligibility requirements, where to locate them, and how to identify which programs will benefit them,” Aronson said. “In the future, we would like to focus on what predicts veteran use of programs and services and how programs and services should be promoted to different veteran populations, particularly those at risk for poor transition outcomes.”

The study is a part of "The Veterans Metrics Initiative: Linking Program Components to Post-Military Well-Being" (TVMI Study). The TVMI Study is a public-private collaboration led by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF). The initiative focuses on understanding veterans’ use and non-use of VA and non-VA resources designed to support healthy reintegration over the first three-years of military disconnection.

About the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness

The Clearinghouse is an applied research center committed to advancing the health and well-being of service members and their families. The Clearinghouse takes a solution-oriented approach that includes conducting applied research studies, building workforce expertise through training and resource provision, implementing and evaluating evidence-informed programs and practices, and delivering objective data and policy-relevant findings so that decisions are based on the best science and evidence available. The Clearinghouse is located within Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

About HJF

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF) is a global nonprofit organization with the mission to advance military medicine. HJF’s scientific, administrative and program operations services empower investigators, clinicians and medical researchers around the world to make medical discoveries in all areas of medicine. With more than 35 years of experience, HJF serves as a trusted and responsive link between the military medical community, federal and private partners, and the millions of warfighters, veterans and civilians who benefit from military medicine.