The challenges veterans face upon returning to civilian life are often linked to experiences they had in combat. Among post-9/11 combat veterans, more than half (52%) say that during their military service, they had experiences that were emotionally traumatic or distressing. Noncombat veterans are less likely to report having these types of experiences, though they are not immune. Among post-9/11 veterans who did not serve in combat, 30% say they had traumatic or distressing experiences over the course of their military service.

The challenge for many veterans is dealing with the aftereffects of these experiences. Among all post-9/11 veterans who report having had traumatic experiences during their time in the military, more than seven-in-ten (72%) say they have had flashbacks, repeated distressing memories or recurring dreams of those incidents. Among post-9/11 combat veterans, the share is slightly higher—75% of those who say they had traumatic experiences while they were in the service also say they’ve had flashbacks or nightmares related to those incidents. The experience has been similar for veterans who came before them. Among pre-9/11 combat veterans who had traumatic experiences in the military, 69% suffered from flashbacks, distressing memories or recurring dreams.

There is a strong link between traumatic wartime experiences and difficulties readjusting to civilian life. Post-9/11 combat veterans who had these types of experiences report having had a much more difficult time transitioning to civilian life, and many say they have faced specific challenges in their day-to-day lives since leaving the military. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.