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Facilitating United States service members’ transition out of the military: A self-determination theory perspective

APA Citation:

Raabe, J., Eckenrod, M. R., Cooper, E., & Crain, J. A. (2024). Facilitating United States service members’ transition out of the military: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Career Development, 51(1), 40-59. https://doi.org/10.1177/08948453231198064

Abstract Created by REACH:

Finding a new job in the civilian sector after leaving the military can be difficult. This study employed a self-determination theory lens, which emphasizes that it is essential for individuals to have their basic psychological needs (e.g., relatedness, autonomy, and competence) met in order to thrive and cope effectively. Through that lens, 16 Veterans were interviewed about the challenges and successes they experienced when transitioning to civilian employment. 7 themes emerged. Veterans experienced various challenges throughout the transition, but networking and learning to emphasize their soft skills (e.g., leadership, effectiveness under stress) improved their self-perceived competence.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches
Marine Corps

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:



Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)




Raabe, Johannes, Eckenrod, Morgan R., Cooper, Emily, Crain, Jared A.


The purpose of the current qualitative research was to explore the role of veterans? basic psychological needs during the military transition. Using purposive and snowball sampling, 16 veterans (n = 13 male, n = 3 female; Mage = 38.3, SDage = 5.8 years) of the United States military (n = 8 Army, n = 4 Marine Corps, n = 3 Navy) were recruited to participate in semi-structured interviews. Reflexive thematic analysis of the qualitative data revealed seven themes: (a) veterans experienced different levels of relatedness in the military community during their transition, (b) perceptions of choice and control had varying influences on veterans? sense of autonomy during their transition, (c) veterans experienced a false sense of competence starting the transition, (d) figuring out how to transfer military experiences and skills to civilian jobs posed a meaningful challenge for veterans? sense of competence throughout the application process, (e) multiple factors helped veterans regain their sense of competence during the job search, (f) veterans experienced difficulties adjusting to new civilian job environment, and (g) family played a major role in fostering veterans? sense of autonomy during the transition. These findings offer multiple conceptual and practical implications, including the context-specificity of perceived competence and relatedness, challenge of skill transfer, and temporality of backup plans, that can be used to help service members? transition more effectively.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

SAGE Publications Inc

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


transition to civilian life, veterans, civilian jobs

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  December 2023

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