Every CAF member is different and their transition can be either a positive or a negative experience, depending on how they approach it. However, one unifying experience is the major life change that results from the journey to life after service. The model of well-being adopted by CAF/VAC (Figure 1) considers how a person is doing in seven domains: employment or other main activity, finances, health, life skills and preparedness, social integration, housing/physical environment, and Cultural and Social Environment.
Figure 1 – CAF/VAC Well-being Model
Note: The Cultural and Social Environment well-being domain is not considered an assessment factor because it is based essentially on public opinion.
In this model, well-being ranges from “poor” to “good”, measured subjectively and objectively in each of six key areas of life (domains). The model states that well-being fluctuates from “poor” to “good” (or “worse” to “better”) in these domains across the life course, in response to factors of well-being that arise from all the other domains. Good well-being means a person is able to manage independently in all the domains, but is more likely to need assistance if challenged in some.
Each of these six domains of well-being is defined as the following:
It is widely agreed that having a good job or other meaningful activity, and the resulting sense of purpose, are factors in good well-being. Most CAF members do not transition from long service to full retirement. Since the average age of release from military service is 40 years of age or less, post-release civilian employment is critical to transition success, although some CAF members over the age of 50 transition into retirement or semi-retirement from the workforce. Employment has multiple advantages in areas of income, health, sense of meaning, and purpose in life, and in establishing a civilian identity. Unemployment is linked with a wide range of negative outcomes including difficult adjustment to civilian life, and health and social difficulties.
Personal financial status is widely recognized as a key factor in well-being. Military members undergoing transition experience changes in sources of income and can have temporary or long-term reduction in income levels post release. Sufficient finances are associated with independence, healthy lifestyle choices, access to health services, quality of housing, family stability, and avoidance of debt. CAF members may face many problems in this domain: finding steady and sufficient employment income, as well as additional funds needed for relocation moves, housing, vehicles, family and child care expenses, health care expenses, and costs of living in a new community. Some will benefit from the support of financial planning services and self-skills to plan and manage finances. These challenges may be tougher if some cost of living expenses – such as health care, housing, and leisure activities – were provided free of charge, or subsidized on military bases or installations during service. Some CAF members will face financial emergencies during transition that cause distress for them and their families.
“Health” has been, and will remain, a predominant domain of CAF members’ well-being. Health can be viewed as the physical, social, mental, and spiritual ability of an individual to function well. This includes the ability to adapt, based on their own internal physical and mental resources, as opposed to external resources, such as having a job, having money, having good life skills, having good relationships, living in a good house, or living in a well-governed community that understands them.
Also, the health domain includes measures of subjective well-being, such as life satisfaction and happiness, but also the notion of mental health, which can coexist with the presence of diagnosed mental or physical conditions. The health domain also includes disability, used here in the sense of health-related restrictions in participation in family, work, and community life roles, rather than presence of health conditions and related impairments.
The “life skills and preparedness” domain deals with skills, knowledge, and insights that prepare military members for transition and enables them to navigate the process of living in civilian life. This domain includes personal health practices and healthy lifestyles. Some life skills acquired by military members during service can serve them well during the transition: resilience training for dealing with stress, organized and disciplined management of personal clothing and equipment, establishing daily routines, and executing plans to solve problems.
Military members who encounter difficulties in transition have often insufficient skills for managing in civilian life: planning for release, personal financial management, job searching, house-hunting and getting along in a civilian workplace. A key challenge in transition is negotiating the shift in personal identity, from military to post-military, a life skill that is not familiar to many people who find themselves in a major life transition.
This domain also includes education and job training.
There is broad agreement that social networks and social relationships play key roles in well-being, and that a key challenge in transition is adapting to new ones. Well-being in multiple domains is a function of the degree and effectiveness of a person’s social integration in home, work, and community environments. CAF members’ social networks are built across the life course, during pre-service (likely, mostly civilians), active duty (mostly service members), and post-service (mixture of civilians, service members, and Veterans). Social networks may be informal (friends and family) or formal (peer support or agency staff). This is a challenge facing many members going through transition, shifting from a primarily military social network to building a new civilian network. Following release, some members will continue to engage in military social networks through direct contact and these networks may help with finding employment or integrating in a new community that includes civilians. Building new and civilian social networks play an important role in finding and receiving needed supports, and in reshaping a military identity to a civilian one.
The domain of housing considers the physical structure of the house as well as the social and physical environment in which it is situated. The physical structure of the house includes such things as the state of its repair, accessibility, safe drinking water, and so on. The social dimensions of housing include housing security, and one’s sense of belonging and safety. The environment surrounding a home considers proximity of services such as schools, recreation areas, health care, and shopping.
The physical environment is also an important determinant of health. Contaminants in our air, water, food, and soil can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory illness, and gastrointestinal ailments. In the built environment, factors related to housing, indoor air quality, and the design of communities and transportation systems can significantly influence your physical and psychological well-being.
After their release, some CAF members might access temporary accommodation and end up in a downward spiral to living in shelters and on the street. The presence of a comprehensive net of services across all the well-being domains can prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.
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