Abstract: The Impact of Civic Service on Disability Identity Outcomes in Veterans with Physical Disabilities (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

212P The Impact of Civic Service on Disability Identity Outcomes in Veterans with Physical Disabilities

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Molly Meissen, MSW, Graduate, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
Monica Matthieu, PhD, Professor, Saint Louis University
Background and Purpose: For many Veterans, reintegrating into civilian life is made more complicated by an acquired or exacerbated physical disability. One unique challenge that such Veterans face is that of forming a disability identity that integrates former self-concept with their disability. Failure to form a coherent disability identity can lead to several negative outcomes, including decreased well-being, increased mental health symptomology, and dissonance in sense of self. There is currently a gap in Veteran-directed services for intentional interventions to address factors that impact disability identity.

This study aims to explore the impact of civic service on outcomes related to disability identity in Veterans with physical disabilities who participated in a formalized civic service program through The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.

Methods: The study uses data from The Mission Continues Fellowship Program collected from February 2011 to March 2014 nationwide. The Fellowship Program is a 20/week 26-week stipend-supported civic service and leadership program for post-9/11 era Veterans who competitively applied and meet several qualification criteria. Of the Veterans who completed The Fellowship Program (N = 346), 181 Fellows experienced physical disabilities that impacted their daily functioning. Self-report data was obtained from the Fellows at the beginning of the program and again at completion. This study evaluates outcomes related to 6 measures: self-efficacy, purpose in life, social support, loneliness, PTSD symptoms, and depressive symptoms. Paired-samples T-tests provide pre- and post- civic service analysis to compare outcomes.  GLM linear regression was used to compare results across gender, age, and race/ethnicity.        

Results: Civic service has positive impacts on all 6 outcomes related to disability identity. Veterans with physical disabilities reported significant increases in self-efficacy (p<0.00), perceived social support (p<0.00), and sense of purpose (p<0.01); there were significant decreases in loneliness (p<0.00), PTSD symptoms (p<0.00), and depressive symptoms (p<0.00). It was also found that females benefited from significantly greater increases in purpose in life (b=3.60, p<0.05) and decreases in depressive symptoms (b=-.53, p<0.04) than males.  

Conclusion and Implications:  This study shows that civic service has a positive impact on outcomes related to disability identity formation in post-9/11 Veterans with physical disabilities who participated in The Mission Continues Fellowship Program. Results are consistent with similar findings, which indicate that civic service may be an innovative intervention for Veterans with physical disabilities reintegrating into civilian life by improving outcomes related to forming a more coherent disability identity. These results hold implications for current clinical practices and future research is needed to determine generalizability to civilian populations.