Non-routine Discharge From Military Service: Mental Illness, Substance Use Disorders, and Suicidality

Emily Brignone, Jamison D. Fargo, Rebecca K. Blais, Marjorie E. Carter, Matthew H. Samore, Adi V. Gundlapalli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Introduction Mental illness and substance use disorders among newly returned military service members pose challenges to successful reintegration into civilian life and, in extreme cases, may lead to outcomes such as incarceration, homelessness, and suicide. One potential early indicator for these difficulties is non-routine discharge from military service. Methods Using data from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for 443,360 active duty service Veterans who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and subsequently utilized VHA services between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2013, this study examined risk for receiving a VHA-documented diagnosis of mental illness, substance use disorders, and suicidality as a function of discharge type, controlling for demographic and military service covariates. Analyses were conducted in 2016. Results In total, 126,314 Veterans (28.5%) had a non-routine military service discharge. Compared with routinely discharged Veterans, odds for nearly all diagnostic outcomes were significantly greater among Veterans discharged for disqualification or misconduct, including personality disorders (AOR=9.21 and 3.29, respectively); bipolar/psychotic disorders (AOR=3.98 and 3.40); alcohol/substance use disorders (AOR=1.55 and 4.42); and suicidal ideation and behaviors (AOR=2.81 and 2.77). Disability-discharged Veterans had significantly higher odds for diagnoses of anxiety disorders (AOR=1.97) and bipolar/psychotic disorders (AOR=3.93). Conclusions Non-routine service discharge strongly predicts VHA-diagnosed mental illness, substance use disorders, and suicidality, with particularly elevated risk among Veterans discharged for disqualification or misconduct. Results emphasize the importance of discharge type as an early marker of adverse post-discharge outcomes, and suggest a need for targeted prevention and intervention efforts to improve reintegration outcomes among this vulnerable subpopulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-565
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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