Objective: A qualitative study sought to understand the
transition experiences of United States (U.S.) military Service members
found “unfit for duty” following medical and physical evaluation
boards (MEBs and PEBs). Methods: Confidential telephone
interviews were conducted with 25 current and prior Service members.
Participants were asked to share their experiences before, during, and
after the MEB and PEB processes. To that end, interview questions were
designed to gather the following types of transition experiences: (1)
health conditions experienced during the medical disability evaluation
process; (2) reactions to being recommended for separation, (3)
transition-related stress and challenges, and (4) coping strategies.
Salient themes were identified across chronological narratives.
Results: Conditions that participants’ experienced included
debilitating physical (e.g., injury) and/or mental health (e.g.,
post-traumatic stress disorder) conditions. In response to the “unfit
for duty” notice, some participants reported emotional distress (e.g.,
anxiety, sadness, anger) connected to a sense of uncertainty about the
future. Other participants reported relief connected to a sense of
progression toward their medical disability claim status. Transition
stress included the length of the MEB/PEB process, impact of the
COVID-19 pandemic on the process, experiences of financial stress,
impact on family life, and the compounded effect of these stressors on
emotional distress, including depression and suicidal thoughts.
Participants reported using adaptive (e.g., psychotherapy) and
maladaptive (e.g., excessive drinking) strategies to cope with stress.
Conclusions: The notable emotional distress and transition
stress experienced by Service members found “unfit for duty” highlight
the need for increased support and interventions to facilitate adaptive
coping strategies during this vulnerable period.