A qualitative study of military service members undergoing medical separation.

A qualitative study of military service members undergoing medical separation.

Publication date: Apr 03, 2024

Little research explores military perspectives on medical disability-related transition. A qualitative study sought to understand transition experiences of United States military Service members found unfit for duty following medical and physical evaluation boards (MEBs and PEBs). Confidential telephone interviews were conducted with 25 current and prior Service members. Participants were asked to share their experiences before, during, and after the MEB and PEB processes. Interview questions explored (1) health conditions that prompted the medical disability evaluation, (2) reactions to being recommended for separation, (3) transition-related stress and challenges, and (4) coping strategies. Salient themes were identified across chronological narratives. Participants expressed that debilitating physical (e. g., injury) and/or mental (e. g., post-traumatic stress disorder) illnesses prompted their medical evaluation. In response to the unfit for duty notice, some participants reported emotional distress (e. g., anxiety, anger) connected to uncertainty about the future. Other participants reported relief connected to a sense of progression toward their medical disability claim status. Transition stress included the length of the MEB/PEB process, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the process, financial stress, impact on family life, and compounded effect of these stressors on emotional distress, including depression and suicidal thoughts. Participants reported using adaptive (e. g., psychotherapy) and maladaptive (e. g., excessive drinking) strategies to cope with stress. Preliminary reports of emotional distress and transition stress following unfit for duty notices highlight the need for increased support and interventions to facilitate adaptive coping strategies during this vulnerable period.

Concepts Keywords
Financial medical disability evaluation
Future military identity
Interviews military separation
Psychotherapy suicide prevention
Unfit transitioning Service members


Type Source Name
disease MESH post-traumatic stress disorder
disease MESH emotional distress
disease MESH uncertainty
disease IDO process
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
disease MESH suicide

Original Article

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