Rural former service members participate in meaningful occupations to 'fill the void' after military service

Kylie Carra, Michael Curtin, Tracy Fortune, Brett Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Over 50% of former service members report debilitating health conditions and difficulty adjusting to civilian life. Former service members living in rural areas are even more likely to experience poor health outcomes and have decreased access to specialist health-care services. Participation in meaningful occupations can support health and adjustment after military service. However, little is known about rural former service members' perspectives and experiences of participating in occupations after separating from military service. This study explored rural former service members' experiences of participating in occupations during their transition and their perceptions of how these experiences influenced their health and adjustment.
Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit 10 rural former Australian Defence Force members discharged from service between 1 July 2013 and 1 July 2018. Former service members participated in a series of semi-structured interviews. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to determine themes for individual participants and then overarching themes that characterised the experiences of the group.
Findings: A single overarching theme, ‘It can't all be for nothing’: Searching for ways to fill ‘the void’ through meaningful occupational participation, reflected rural former service members' experiences. The different ways that participants sought to fill ‘the void’ after military service were interpreted through two sub-themes: (1) ‘You can't heal if you're still in a battlefield’: Participating in occupations to re-establish safety and wellbeing, and (2) ‘I was in a uniform and I could still do well’: Participating in occupations to reconnect with self and continue the mission to serve.
Conclusion: Rural former service members participated in various occupations to establish safety, wellbeing, and reconnection after transitioning from military service. The findings point to the need for further research to inform the development of consumer-led occupation-based interventions that are sensitive to individuals' service history, environmental context, and trauma recovery needs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-353
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Occupational Therapy Journal
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


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