Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Wounded veterans: Reintegration through adventure-based experience; A narrative inquiry
by Donaldson, David Shaw, Ed.D., California State University, Long Beach, 2016, 249; 10155607
Abstract (Summary)

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. servicemen and women, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are returning home having suffered and survived catastrophic and disabling physical, neurological, psychological, and moral injuries. By every measure, the casualty statistics are staggering. Perhaps even more alarming is the reality that we have yet to see the full extent of the psychological and neurological injury-related complications that will emerge in the months and years to come. War exacts a heavy burden not only on the service member, but their families as well. Divorce affects female troops 3 times that of their male counterparts. During post-deployment health screenings, 12% of troops report substance abuse problems, while only 0.2% are referred for further evaluation and treatment. On any given night in America, about 154,000 veterans are homeless. Nearly half of those homeless have a mental health diagnosis and more than 70% struggle with substance abuse. Unfortunately, and too often, the burdens these servicemen and women carry become too heavy as suicide becomes an exercised option. Between 2004 and 2008, the rate at which active duty army soldiers took their own lives doubled.

The evidence strongly suggests that significant numbers of recent veterans are not successfully reintegrating back into society by virtue of high incidence rates of suicide, substance abuse, family problems, divorce, unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration. Unfortunately, that reintegration journey is seldom supported by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in any consistent meaningful manner beyond the date that the veteran is discharged from active duty.

This narrative inquiry explored the community reintegration experiences of ill, injured, and disabled U.S. servicemen and women that served in the global war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. More specifically, the service member’s experiences and perspectives around engagement in adventure-based activities, the supportive communities that manifest around those activities, and the role or value of that experience in the reintegration process. Through narrative inquiry, this study gives voice and adds deep contour and rare perspective to this typically isolated, humbly silent, and understudied population, informing greater understanding of the warfighter experience and the elements of their journeys that support successful rehabilitation and reintegration.

The findings of this study suggest that adventure-based activity and the communities that manifest around those activities played a vital role in the successful rehabilitation and reintegration journey of each of the research participants. Through surfing, rock climbing, and mountaineering, each was able to satisfy needs at all levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, facilitating the ability to redefine their sense of identity, reestablish a sense of purpose, and reconnect and reintegrate into a welcoming and supportive community apart from the military.

Findings from this study also inform policy, practice, and future research that can positively influence and improve the experience of current and future casualties of war. Honoring a commitment made by President Lincoln over 152 years ago and in keeping with the VA’s mission, the federal government must fund future research that has the capacity to influence expansion of the VA’s current narrow scope of practice. It must also vet and fund community-based programs that demonstrate the ability to positively influence the rehabilitation and reintegration journey. The findings of this study also inform practice in both the community and VA. Educators, clinicians, program providers, volunteers, and donors serving this population now have a more complete image of the veterans’ experience and the immense value of their contribution to the journey. Future research that includes a multicultural voice, the voice of women, inclusion of other adventure-based activities, and a variety of methodological approaches is imperative if the research community is to play a role in positively influencing the rehabilitation and reintegration journey of veterans that are ill, injured, and disabled.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Scott, James W.
Commitee: Hoffman, Jamie, Vega, William M.
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Educational Leadership
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 78/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Mental health, Health sciences, Social structure, Military studies, Recreation
Keywords: Adventure-based, Climbing, Reintegration, Surfing, Therapeutic recreation, Veteran
Publication Number: 10155607
ISBN: 978-1-369-10681-7
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