Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. It's always a pleasure to be here. I'll be talking about transition through a family lens. I'll share with you some of the findings on the work-to-retirement transition and how it applies, or not, to military and veteran families.
As you've heard me say before, family is self-defined. It's dynamic and diverse, but family does play a significant role in transition. There are three characteristics, which you've heard on several occasions, that are unique to military veteran families. They experience relocation, separation, and risk like no other. When it comes to transition to retirement, the relocation stops. You have to make a decision about where you want to land. The separation stops. Now you have to figure out if and how you're going to live together. And three, the risk drops. That changes the way in which you engage with the world. It changes your emotional state.
When military members retire, they have to find where they're going to stay. Most of us when we retire have a pretty good idea of where we're going to be. We have lots of lead time to prepare and to develop relationships; for the military, not so much. Furthermore, we don't have to worry about some of the unique characteristics of being a military family, such as how other people are going to see us or think about us.
Military and veteran families are the only families in Canada who actually identify themselves—as a “military” family. You never hear about someone being part of a “mining” family or a “banking” family. You're just part of a family. When you're in the military, you're part of a community. It's more than just a job. It's your identity. It's your community. It's your sense of belonging. You have common experiences and shared interests. That makes transition for this group very different.
Historically, there were lots of supports on and around base. Now you're more likely to be living off base and more likely to have a spouse or partner in the paid labour force than ever before in history. Living in the community changes the dynamic around transition. What we once knew and understood about transition, even in the seventies and eighties, we can't necessarily apply to experiences today. In most careers when you retire, you've been doing that job, or that kind of work, or you've been on a career trajectory, for 35 or 40 years. In the military you may retire after a few years or a few decades. A lot of the research that's done on retirement transitions outside of the military can't always apply either. When most Canadians retire they're in their sixties. For men and women, the average age of retirement is around 63. If you're self-employed it's 69. For the military, retirement age tends to be significantly younger. A lot of people who are trained to support people going through transitions don't have this particular skill set.
The other thing that makes it unique is that when most people retire, it's by choice. For some in the military it's by choice, but for some it's by circumstance—for example, the medical release story that we just heard from Mark. If a third of veterans have difficulty transitioning, two-thirds of those who do are those who are medically released, because not only are they dealing with transitions, they're also dealing with the adjustments that are outside of their control.
I want to highlight eight key areas where military veteran transition happens, areas that need to be considered as we develop evidence-based programs and policies. To give them to you in no particular order, they are financial, physical, emotional, social, professional, psychological, familial, and, for some, medical.
To make a smooth transition with respect to the financial aspect, the literature shows that financial literacy is critically important. Most people get that financial literacy outside the military from financial advisers. A spouse or a partner may be getting that from a community-based service or a banking or financial institution that has no concept, understanding, or even awareness of the realities of retirement from the military.
Financial literacy programs and services that are military specific, like SISIP, are available, and when they're effective, they can help smooth the transition.
The physical aspect refers to where to live, your health and well-being, and how you're going to make adjustments. You may have been in the military and had a very physically active job. Now you're retiring, and you have to re-engage.
The emotional area is really about attachment, belonging, and grief and loss. To make that a smooth transition, there needs to be high self-awareness and self-regulation.
The social aspect is a big part of the military transition, because the connections you establish when you're in it are very different from the connections that you may have access to outside of the military. Making, keeping, and nurturing new relationships on top of everything else you might be dealing with—as Mark so eloquently described—can be very challenging, both for military members and their families.
Professionally, they have to decide whether they're going to get a new job or be in a new role or take on new responsibilities, whether they're going to participate in the marketplace with self-employment or the labour market, and all the transition stuff you've already heard about.
The psychological is by far the biggest piece of transition, regardless of what your employment status is as you move to retirement, but particularly for military. When you choose a military career, it's not just a job. It's not just a career. It gives you purpose. It gives you a sense of direction. It's meaningful. You're making a contribution. You're making a difference to individuals and others, and in some cases the world. It gives you not just a reason to get up in the morning, but a sense of identity and a sense of well-being overall. Part of the transition, psychologically, is to leave that identity and move on to a new one, which isn't as tightly defined or necessarily as well respected.
As for the familial one, roles have to be redefined. Relationships need to be re-established and renegotiated. Routines need to be reinvented. All of that is fairly standard with retirement, but if you're doing that in your sixties and into your seventies, that's a bit different from when you have preschoolers or teenagers in the household, and it makes it even more complicated. We need to take that into consideration.
There's the medical aspect. You're more likely to have circumstantial retirement and have to deal with illness and injury, physical and mental, as well.
Then there's work after retirement. For many of us who retire from a job or a career, when we leave one job we may choose to remain in the paid labour force or continue to work in some way to bring an income to our families. We're certainly seeing that across the country. For most, you can decide whether you want to work for the same organization or in the same profession, or try something completely new.
The options for military are very different. You can't go back and be in the military. You might be able to go into reserve, but it's not the same kind of retirement option that the rest of us have. Most retirement advisers don't have the level of awareness or cultural competency to be able to support people in military families who are transitioning to retirement. It becomes really challenging, especially if you're retiring as a result of circumstance, not choice or design, because you have to come up with a whole new set of dreams, goals, and aspirations. You have to deal with the new financial reality. You have to deal with the bureaucracy. You have to figure out how you're going to expend the energy you have, and a lot of it goes to understanding the systems and services.
The key areas are predictability, autonomy, and self-realization. If those three things are in place and supported, then transition to retirement is much smoother. Most of our programs, policies, and supports are directed at one or two of these things, without understanding the broader connection.
A big piece, particularly for those who are medically released, is the shock, the grief, the loss of the job, the career, and the dreams. We don't have a lot of supports for that unless it's more medicalized through psychiatry or psychology, but there is very little that embraces and involves the entire family.
When we think about imposed retirement and about all of the adaptations and adjustments that families need to go through, the thing that makes it particularly challenging—and I'll leave you with these thoughts—is the ambiguity of what comes next. There are a lot of unknowns for military families when they retire: continuous adaptation to not just retirement but to a whole new way of living, a whole new way of being. The third one is adjustment on all of those eight points, and last, and probably one of the most challenging, particularly if you relocate outside of a community that has a high proportion of military families, is assimilation, so assimilating into society. Those are ambiguity, adaptation, adjustment, and assimilation.
If we have a better understanding of the process and how it's the same and different from others going through transition, then we can create a platform for increasing successful transition.
Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to be here. I look forward to your questions.