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Research Questions

  1. What is the available UK evidence base on transition from military to civilian life and what are the main findings? What lessons can be applied to the UK context from research relating to other countries?
  2. What is the extent of the literature on transition from military to civilian life and what are the main findings? What lessons can be applied from research on Service life to transition from military to civilian life?
  3. What (if any) research gaps exist and what areas for future research can be identified?

Each year, approximately 17,000 personnel leave the UK Armed Forces and return to civilian life. The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) has called for better transition support in order to assist Service leavers and their families in leading successful civilian lives.

FiMT conducted a stakeholder engagement programme in 2015 to identify areas where Service leaver families could be more effectively supported in the transition process. Building on this research, RAND Europe was commissioned to conduct a systematic review to help FiMT better understand the evidence base across four thematic areas: family engagement, family breakdown, family housing and spousal employment.

The main aims of the review were to:

  1. Assess the quality and quantity of existing source material;
  2. Identify evidence gaps; and
  3. Recommend directions for future research.

The study was conducted through a systematic review of academic literature and a thematic review of grey literature. Despite the comprehensive scope of the review, evidence was found to be limited across the four review areas. Very little source material focused specifically on transition in the UK: most studies appeared to look at deployments and Service life in the US setting.

The review found that in order to better engage with families in transition, there is a need for a stronger evidence base that systematically investigates the issues faced by Service leaver families. Based on the evidence gaps identified, recommendations were developed for research funders and researchers, as well as for the Ministry of Defence, public bodies and other service providers.

Key Findings

Examining the academic and grey literature on support to UK Service leaver families, the report finds that:

There was a shortage of UK literature on transition into civilian life.

  • Few studies were identified examining the transition from military to civilian life in the UK.
  • The literature on veterans and their families was focused mainly on the US experience, and the extent to which these findings apply in the UK context is not clear.
  • Source material was found to primarily focus on Service life, and especially on deployments.

Definitional gaps make comparisons challenging.

  • The available literature appeared to lack a common definition of key terms.
  • While the review aimed to discern whether sources were focused on 'Service life only', 'post-Service life only' or on 'both Service and post-Service life', ambiguous definitions of key terms including 'reintegration', 'transition' and 'veteran' meant that it was difficult to categorise this definitively.

The literature was characterised by a heavy health focus and with gaps across all four areas.

  • The review highlighted a heavy emphasis on health-related literature, with a particular focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Intimate Partner Violence, and combat-related trauma.
  • However, the literature was lacking in the four review areas of interest: family engagement, family breakdown, housing support and spousal employment.
  • Key evidence gaps included a shortage of literature on 'non-traditional families', as well as limited research on the impact of Service on family stability more broadly.


Based on the evidence gaps identified, the following recommendations were developed for research funders and researchers:

  • More comparative longitudinal studies should be commissioned.
  • Evaluations should be allocated more funding.
  • Funding for a 'mapping study' of existing support for UK Service leavers should be made available.
  • Studies should clearly differentiate between different 'Service leaver types' and between family structures.

Recommendations were also developed for the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD):

  • The transferability of international research and programming should be considered when designing UK policy and support programmes.
  • The MOD should evaluate and monitor its transition support for UK Service leaver families.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust and conducted by RAND Europe.

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