Veteran identity has been operationalized to be a Veteran’s self-concept deriving from their shared military experiences. After separation from service, many Veterans experience “reverse culture shock,” which can negatively impact interpersonal relationships and results in negative feelings such as helplessness, isolation, and emotional disconnection. Understanding how Veterans define themselves in their civilian lives can give us insight that could bridge the gaps between them and their available support systems. We utilized a qualitative, community-based participatory action research (CbPAR) model which empowers Veterans to use their personal voices to tell their stories and help researchers communicate those stories to the community. In this framework, we employed the Photovoice technique where Veterans take pictures that represent the answer to the following prompt: What does being a Veteran mean to you? This study was part of a larger project using photovoice and lyric analysis to help define the “sights and sounds” of Veteran identity. Veterans were asked questions individually and as a group to help the researchers understand the meaning of the images relating to the prompt. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed to uncover common themes and elements that represent a definition of Veteran identity. Results of these analyses will be discussed. Identity themes such as honor, integrity, pride, isolation/loneliness, duty, sacrifice, humanity, and identity conflict have emerged in preliminary thematic analyses. To allow Veterans’ stories to be told to the public, our next step is to create an immersive, interactive gallery reflecting their experiences through their photos. We argue that without more emphasis on qualitative, CbPAR methodologies, research with special and/or marginalized populations, like Veterans, will continue to be more exploitative than beneficial for them. CbPAR methods help eliminate the distrust in scientists and clinicians already experienced by many in these populations.


Georgia College & State University Academic Affairs Faculty Research Grant

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