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Social Adaptation of Former Military Members

Social adaptation to civilian life of former members of the military is a unique and significant area of inquiry. Service in the USA military is voluntary, but the conditions of entering the service do not imply that anyone can randomly join (Leal & Teigen, 2018). An opportunity to serve is provided either to the US citizens or to permanent residents who have already received a resident status before joining the service. The contract is signed for a period from two to six years (Leal & Teigen, 2018). Permanent residents include immigrants to the US who are awaiting a decision on citizenship. This makes it possible to maintain a sufficient number of military service members and involve immigrants in helping the USA while also helping themselves.

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As of 2019, the active military personnel in the United States includes 1,282,000 individuals (“Total available active military manpower,” 2019). Of this number, 3% (approximately 40,000) are men and women born outside of the USA (“Total available active military manpower,” 2019). Of those born outside the USA, a large category is represented by first-generation Latinos. These data indicate the need for a more detailed analysis of former military transition in general and Latinos in particular.

After one’s service contract is concluded, former members of the military enter civilian life. The transition from the military to civilian life is not easy. For instance, Terziev (2018) notes that the former military may face difficult circumstances due to “information deficit, a level of hostility, and the inability to get used to a new environment” (p. 620). Pease, Billera, and Gerard (2015) focus on the transition to civilian life in general and point out that this process is fraught with challenges in interacting both with other people and with loved ones. Long absences due to military service and the need to adapt to new living conditions upon leaving the military create barriers that are difficult to overcome without appropriate support (Pease et al., 2015).

As a result, a person becomes tired psychologically and experiences frequent stress and anxiety, conditions that are detrimental to mental health. Hachey, Sudom, Sweet, MacLean, and VanTil (2016) emphasize the importance of social support provided to former military personnel. In their opinion, a soldier who has certain mental and physical health problems feels frightened when caught in an unusual environment (Hachey et al., 2016).

Blackburn (2016) reviews the phenomenon of social adaptation and notes that the transition to civilian life among the military may be difficult due to the lack of supporting resources, or the attitudes and behaviors of the individual, as well as motivation. In other words, the passiveness of the authorities regarding the issue of assistance to the target population can affect the lives of former members as well as the individuals’ actions. The author argues that social adaptation is a complex process that requires both time and appropriate assistance (Blackburn, 2016). In the case of inattention to this problem, people from the claimed group may experience significant discomfort, depression, and anxiety, among other mental health situations.

To understand the topic of research better, it is also crucial to analyze the problems faced by individuals immigrating to the USA. In this respect, Latinos and people coming from other countries have similar problems. Most frequently, the issues can be experienced at the social and psychological levels. Giacco, Matanov, and Priebe (2014) identify the following obstacles that immigrants to the USA meet: differences in beliefs, language barriers, stigma, different models of illness, and social deprivation. Each of these factors separately or a combination of some of them can have a detrimental effect on the acculturation of any immigrant.

The problem of language barriers belongs to the acutest ones, since without knowing the language of the country where a person has moved to, he or she will not feel secure. Immigrants may be suspicious of social workers, physicians, shop-assistants, and other categories of service providers due to the lack of verbal understanding. What is more, quite frequently, immigrants fail to access timely healthcare support since they cannot request it (Giacco et al., 2014).

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Additionally, every country has its own explanatory models of diseases and specific treatment practices, which may be difficult for the US doctors to perceive. As a result, immigrants do not address or receive physical health care in many cases. However, what is more significant in light of the present study, the psychological health of immigrants is often endangered. As Giacco et al. (2014) note, cultural differences and limited legal privileges induce immigrants to conceal their psychological problems and make them restrain from addressing a specialist. The language barrier plays a crucial role in this respect since many immigrants cannot use the services of a psychotherapist due to the inability to communicate with a specialist.

Whereas all immigrants face similar challenges upon moving to the USA, scholars also identify some problems pertaining to Latino immigrants in particular. Alarcón et al. (2016) report that the issues associated with immigrants of Hispanic origin most often involve the language barrier, health insurance arrangements, and the “sense of accomplishment in the host society (p. 860). Moreover, scholars emphasize that these factors compose the so-called Hispanic paradox, which presupposes that they are both the reason and the outcome of the acculturative process (Alarcón et al., 2016).

Acculturation is one of the key aspects defining the theme of the present study. Kelly (2016) employs this term to focus on the problem of the social interaction of people finding themselves in the social position to which they are not accustomed. According to Kelly (2016), acculturation is the phenomenon that involves a change in worldview when emerging oneself into a new social environment. Such a definition makes it possible to understand that personal traditional norms and values can undergo changes.

Alarcón et al. (2016) note that the acculturation of Latinos is different from that of other immigrant population groups due to several factors. Although the Hispanic group, which includes Latinos, is larger than some other communities, its acculturation cannot be considered as smooth and easy. Also, this immigration population typically has a lower educational level than the general US population (Alarcón et al., 2016).

Due to the complications that occur during acculturation, Latino immigrants are reported to have a number of social and mental issues. The analysis of the likelihood of mental health issues among immigrants has been performed by Wong (2017). In the study, the author argues the Latino immigrants are more prone to anxiety and stress than some other immigrant groups living in the USA. Wong (2017) notes that the likelihood of an immigrant to develop depression is closely related to the language barrier and cultural differences.

In the case of first-generation Latino immigrants who have served in the USA armed forces and remained in this country after separation, the situation becomes more complicated. It is so due to the combination of immigrant-related problems and former military-associated difficulties. As it has been mentioned, being a military or an immigrant poses various threats to the person’s acculturation.

However, if a person is both a veteran and an immigrant, the situation becomes even more complicated. Therefore, the process of acculturation is more difficult for the former military of Latino descent who decided to remain in the USA after retirement. These individuals have coped with some of the typical immigrant problems, such as the language barrier, but due to their specialization, they have developed an acute sense of anxiety. The problem seems to consist of many interconnecting parts, such as communication challenges, reunion with families, and the need to look for a job upon returning home.

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Therefore, the emphasis of the review of literature is on the need to identify the lived experiences of former first-generation Latinos who decided to remain in the USA after transitioning from service. One of the aspects to be observed during the study is identifying the blocks and/or barriers which this population might have experienced. A viable perspective would be to establish whether sufficient resources are provided, and if so, whether the service members are taking the necessary steps to utilize these services. There are certain key terms to keep in mind during the study, among which, acculturation is the most significant.

When conducting the literature review, some gaps in the available information were identified. In particular, no study explained the social adaptation premises associated with the acculturation of first-generation Latino former military. A specific cultural background, a birthplace, religious beliefs, and other national features are not mentioned as the criteria for evaluating the adaptation of the former military. Hence, there is an omission in the available literature since social aspects are not given sufficient attention in the studies. Therefore, this research asks the following question: what is the lived experience of first-generation Latino service members who decided to remain living in the USA after transitioning? The hope is that the study will help to answer and/or clarify this question and any subquestions that may arise from it.

A qualitative study will be conducted to address the process of social adaptation of the mentioned population. The phenomenological methodology will be used since this principle of assessment allows determining the real experiences of the selected personnel under the influence of changes and from the standpoint of relationships and/or emotions. The data collection mechanism is based on interviews, and the main purpose of it is to describe the situations deeply by using the facts provided by the target population.

To expand research and assimilate different perspectives, the assessment of social adaptation will be based on reviewing former military members, more specifically, the experiences of first-generation Latinos who remained in the country after service. As a concept for analysis, the theory of acculturation and other theories proposed by Kelly (2016) will be utilized. According to the author, this phenomenon “refers to the internal processes of change that immigrants experience when they come into direct contact with members of the host culture” (Kelly, 2016, p. 155).


Alarcón, R. D., Parekh, A., Wainberg, M. L., Duarte, C. S., Araya, R., & Oquendo, M. A. (2016). Hispanic immigrants in the USA: Social and mental health perspectives. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(9), 860-870.

Blackburn, D. (2016). Transitioning from military to civilian life: Examining the final step in a military career. Canadian Military Journal, 16(4), 53-61.

Giacco, D., Matanov, A., & Priebe, S. (2014). Providing mental healthcare to immigrants: Current challenges and new strategies. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 27(4), 282-288.

Hachey, K. K., Sudom, K., Sweet, J., MacLean, M. B., & VanTil, L. D. (2016). Transitioning from military to civilian life: The role of mastery and social support. Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, 2(1), 9-18.

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Kelly, D. R. (2016). Applying acculturation theory and power elite theory on a social problem: Political underrepresentation of the Hispanic population in Texas. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 38(2), 155-165.

Leal, D. L., & Teigen, J. M. (2018). Military service and political participation in the United States: Institutional experience and the vote. Electoral Studies, 53, 99-110.

Pease, J. L., Billera, M., & Gerard, G. (2015). Military culture and the transition to civilian life: Suicide risk and other considerations. Social Work, 61(1), 83-86.

Terziev, V. (2018). Building a model of social and psychological adaptation. IJASOS – International E-Journal of Advances in Social Sciences, 4(12), 619-627.

Total available active military manpower by country. (2019). Web.

Wong, M. J. (2017). Culture-bound syndromes: Racial/ethnic differences in the experience and expression of ataques de nervios. Web.

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