SOF for Life is a program that supports SOF and SOF enablers even after their active duty service ends–specifically helping them find meaning and purpose in their civilian lives.
It’s a platform of mutually supporting and networked non-governmental programs that enable special operations personnel transitioning from military service to civilian employment. SOF for Life programs help prepare transitioning personnel above what the government provides.
The Global SOF Foundation is one of those supporting organizations, and one way we contribute is by conducting periodic SOF for Life Surveys.
This edition of the SOF for Life Transition Survey was launched in August 2020 and closed in May 2021. A total of 477 responses were collected from every U.S. special operations forces (SOF) component as well as SOF formations from 11 other partner nations.
5Ws of the Survey
The SOF for Life umbrella of partners and programs is examining its priorities based on the results of the 2020-2021 SOF for Life Transition Survey. The SOF for Life Steering Group is particularly interested in strengthening offerings related to financial readiness and the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the SOF service member. What’s more, SOF for Life must continue to encourage SOF personnel to plan early for their transition and take the time to craft a comprehensive transition plan that leverages appropriate resources provided by vetted partner organizations.
We try to make the survey as scientific as possible, so we always put our Vice President, Board Member, and smartest exec, Dr. Keenan Yoho, on the task.
Keenan helps us craft a series of questions to gather demographic data, transition preparedness, emotional state, financial preparedness, health and wellness, and post-military experiences.
After much review and input from our SOF for Life Steering Committee, which includes several separated SOF operators and enablers, we loaded the questions into Survey Monkey and began pushing it out to members of the community who have recently separated.
We were thrilled to get nearly 500 responses to the survey, and the responses are telling. We strongly encourage you to read the results in their entirety, but for your convenience we’ve also listed our conclusions below.
Why do we think it’s important to do this survey? We realize that the operators who are taking it have already left Active Service, and we may have already failed them.
But there’s still time to help the Operators of the future, especially after many of them spent their whole careers at war. These results show us where we are lacking and where we need to do the work.
Keep following SOF for Life to learn more, and if you think you can help tackle some of these issues, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Demographics: Respondents to the SOF for Life Survey represent all branches of service and originate from 12 different nations. Respondents are highly educated with more than 83% having graduated from college and more than half (51%) completing graduate school. Respondents came from nearly all ranks and had high rates of deployment with 65% of the respondents reported deploying 6 or more times during their time in military service and 17% deploying 16 times or more.
Divorce rates of the respondents were 40% which is astonishingly high compared to the rest of the active military force which is approximately 3%; the SOF divorce rate is more than 13 times higher than the rest of the active force. Approximately 53% of the respondents had 2 or more dependents and 41% indicated they were expecting to pay for higher education costs for 2 or more dependents. Additionally, 86% of all respondents were homeowners still paying a mortgage loan.
Financial Anxiety: There were 62% of respondents who indicated they “experienced anxiety in the year prior to and leading up to the moment that they separated from military service” and 50% also stated that their spouse suffered from anxiety during the same time period. Financial readiness was a significant contributing factor to stress and just under half of the respondents understood how their retirement savings was invested or had any confidence that their savings would meet their financial goals.
VA & Benefits: Only 24% of the respondents applied for Benefits Before Disability (BBD) prior to separating from military service with 53% affirming they had not applied and another 23% not knowing whether they had applied or not. Only 50% of respondents used an external reviewer for their VA rating process despite this process having notoriously high error rates and excruciatingly long response times — almost 5 months — to appeals. More than 61% of respondents reported a disability rating of 80% or more with 12% reporting being 90% disabled and 37% reporting 100% disability.
Health and Wellness: Alarmingly, 83% of respondents indicated they “experienced challenges with memory or concentration” with more than half (51%) having such experiences more than two times per week. These figures constitute a crisis and a “burning platform” for the force. In addition to difficulties with memory or concentration, 93% of respondents indicated they “experienced challenges with sleep to include insomnia, sleep disruption, or obstructive sleep apnea.” Lack of quality sleep is associated with a host of other health problems that reduce quality of life for both separated SOF service members and their family as well as increase other health risks. Approximately 80% of respondents indicated they experienced pain associated with joint, back (or other orthopedic) pain and/or headaches 2-3 times per week or more and 65% experience pain daily.
The prevailing medical research indicates that as an individual experiences pain more frequently their likelihood of abusing opioids also increases.