Impact of military service on physical health later in life: A qualitative study of geriatric UK veterans and non-veterans

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Objectives Military veterans often experience physical health problems in later life; however, it remains unclear whether these problems are due to military service or are a feature of the ageing process. This study aimed to explore veteran and non-veteran perceptions of the impact of their occupation on their physical well-being later in life. Design Semi-structured qualitative interviews analysed using thematic analysis. Setting Interviews were conducted face-to-face in participants' homes or via telephone. Participants 35 veterans (≥65 years), 25 non-veterans (≥65 years) were recruited, as well as a close companion of all participants for triangulation (n=60). Results Most veterans reported good physical health later in life which they attributed to the fitness they developed during military service. However, several veterans described challenges in maintaining their desired level of physically activity due to new commitments and limited sports facilities when they left service. Fewer non-veterans had experienced work-related fitness activities or exercise in their civilian jobs. Ongoing physical health difficulties, such as deafness, were perceived to be due to exposure to workplace hazards and appeared more common in veterans compared with non-veterans. Veterans also described greater reluctance than non-veterans to seek medical treatment for physical health difficulties, which could be challenging for close companions who had to provide informal care. Conclusions Military service was largely perceived to be beneficial for physical well-being; although when occupation-related physical health problems were experienced, many veterans were unwilling to seek treatment. These findings may inform clinicians of the needs of older veterans and highlight potential barriers to care.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number7
Early online date16 Jul 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jul 2019


  • mental health
  • military
  • occupation
  • veteran


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