Leading civilian UK centre of excellence for military health research

A new project exploring the experiences of female veterans who have transitioned out of the UK Armed Forces has been funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT).

The project, entitled SUSTAIN (SUpporting Successful TrAnsItioN) will be run by Prof Nicola Fear, Prof Neil Greenberg, Dr Stevelink and Dr Rafferty.

Previous research into serving and ex-serving personnel has focused on males at the cost of understanding the female experience. Whilst females may be in the minority in the serving and veteran community, for too long their voice has not been heard, and the rise in the number of females joining the military makes understanding their experiences all the more important. The limited available existing evidence suggests that female veterans may be at an increased risk of certain physical and mental health conditions in comparison to women who have never served. Evidence also indicates that female veterans are less likely to identify as a ‘veteran’ than their male counterparts which may explain why they underutilise the widely available veteran-specific services.  

"For too long, it has been all too common to ignore the differences between the health and social impacts, and related needs, of male and female service personnel. Our research will explore female service personnel’s experiences of transition from the military to civilian life in order to make evidence informed recommendations. We are delighted to be undertaking this work to help improve the transitioning experiences of female veterans." Prof Neil Greenberg, Professor of Defence Mental Health

What will the project focus on?

The project will be run in collaboration with Vicky Langston who will be our military veteran co-researcher and with the support of a female veteran advisory board. This project has four different but interrelated work packages to advance our understanding about the experiences of female veterans.

Work Package 1: What do we already know?

The first work package is focused on exploring what is currently known about the transition experience for females leaving the UK Armed Forces and includes a review of the literature, a review of the services currently available to female veterans and a series of meetings with key stakeholders in veteran support services.

Work Package 2: What do female veterans think?

Utilising in-depth qualitative interviews with female veterans, an understanding of their lived experiences through transition out of the Armed Forces will be developed, including an appreciation of the specific barriers and facilitators female veterans face in making a successful transition to civilian life.

Work Package 3: How do female veterans compare to male veterans and female civilians?

Data on a range of health and socioeconomic outcomes, for both male and female veterans, will be drawn from the KCMHR Health and Wellbeing Cohort Study, a longitudinal study in its fourth phase of data collection which explores the health and wellbeing of UK military personnel. A comparative civilian data set will be sought to enable an exploration of any differences in these outcomes between female veterans and their civilian counterparts, identifying any unique disadvantages experienced by female veterans when compared to both male veterans and female civilians.

Work Package 4: How can we develop best practice support? Conversations with key stakeholders within veteran support services will support the co-development of practical and achievable recommendations to develop and improve support services that fit and meet the needs of female veterans.

Why is this project important?

The results of this study will help us to understand what it is like to be a female veteran in the UK, challenges that they face and the support that could help. The research will stimulate conversations with organisations and people who provide, or could provide, support services for female veterans to help them understand what it is that female veterans want and need. These conversations will support the co-development of realistic and coordinated recommendations to develop and improve support services that fit and meet the needs of female veterans.

"In this project, as well as understanding more about the experiences of female veterans (good and bad), we aim to make a number of evidence-based recommendations to ensure the needs of female veterans are recognised and addressed." Prof Nicola Fear, Co-Director of King’s Centre for Military Health Research

Get in touch

As part of work package 1 we are interested in understanding what support is available to female veterans. If you work for an organisation providing support services to female veterans please get in touch and tell us about the services that you provide.

Want to know more?

The project will run over two years with the final project report due in Autumn 2024. If you would like to hear more, please contact: [email protected]

Picture copyright: Defence Imagery

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