Understanding the lived experience of military-to-civilian transition and post-Service life among non-UK veterans

British troops remembering the fallen in Afghanistan, photo by Corporal Andrew Morris (RAF)/Crown Copyright

Members of all three services gathered at Kandahar Air base to pay their respects during a service of Remembrance in November 2014.

Corporal Andrew Morris (RAF)/Crown Copyright

What is the issue?

In 2018, the UK Government published its Strategy for our Veterans. Its overall aim is to ensure that all those who served in the UK Armed Forces are able to make a successful and sustainable transition to civilian life. A key part of this is to ensure that veterans are able to access support where necessary.

However, the UK Government has recognised that there is limited evidence available on the needs and experiences of certain cohorts within the Armed Forces Community, which constrains understanding of the full spectrum of potential support needs of ex-Service personnel. This includes non-UK veterans, i.e. former Service personnel who come from outside of the UK. In order to create policies and foster practice that effectively support non-UK veterans, more research is needed to characterise the lived experience of this cohort.

How did we help?

RAND Europe received a grant from the UK Office for Veterans’ Affairs to conduct qualitative research on the lived experience of non-UK veterans. This included research to:

  • Understand why non-UK veterans choose to join the UK Armed Forces and how they view public perceptions of the military in the UK and their home countries.
  • Understand how non-UK veterans perceive their experience of Service within the social and cultural context of the UK military.
  • Understand how non-UK veterans navigate change in their social environment during military-to-civilian transition in the UK or in their home countries.
  • Understand the role of community in this cohort during military-to-civilian transition and post-Service life.
  • Assess the implications of the findings for the UK Government and service charity sector.

To address these aims, the team conducted a literature review as well as interviews with non-UK veterans of 11 different nationalities who had served in the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

What did we find?

  • The lived experience of non-UK veterans is shaped by the intersections of one’s status as a veteran and a migrant. This dynamic often means that non-UK veterans must frequently navigate multiple transitions simultaneously during moments of change of upheaval (e.g., military-to-civilian transition) due to the twin pressures of Service life and immigration-related requirements.
  • Non-UK veterans’ experiences are regularly defined by a greater degree of complexity and uncertainty compared to other veterans. Although not every non-UK veteran encounters challenges during and after their Service, the study revealed that members of this community can experience added uncertainties and unique demands in comparison to UK Service leavers. For many non-UK veterans, this is tied to navigating unfamiliar organisational processes and socio-cultural environments.
  • Many non-UK veterans believe that their contributions and support needs are poorly understood. While the study’s participants expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to serve in the UK Armed Forces, they thought that there was limited awareness and recognition of the non-UK veteran community across the UK government and society more widely. This presented them with challenges (e.g., receiving conflicting information about non-UK Service issues) and led them to doubt the value of their Service.
  • Informal social networks and communities are important support mechanisms for non-UK veterans. The participants’ testimonies indicated that non-UK veterans may rely more on peer-to-peer support and informal networks as opposed to formal support channels. This may help explain the low uptake of formal support services from non-UK communities that has been observed across the sector.

What can be done?

The study provided 20 recommendations for the UK Office for Veterans’ Affairs, UK Ministry of Defence, the charity sector and other support organisations oriented at:

  • Advancing a review of resettlement support for non-UK Service personnel.
  • Improving information-provision for non-UK Service personnel and veterans.
  • Amplifying non-UK voices within serving and veteran communities.
  • Ensuring the inclusion of small charities and voluntary organisations working with non-UK veteran communities.
  • Ensuring support provision reflects the potential psycho-social challenges faced by non-UK veterans.
  • Addressing gaps and challenges in data-collection to build an understanding of non-UK military communities.
  • Continuing to build evidence to support policy improvement and tailored support provision for non-UK veterans.

Read the full study