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Falling Out: The painful truth about what happens when reservists go back to their day job

Last year (2019) I completed an exploratory study through Swinburne University of Technology into the experiences of Army Reservists returning to civilian employment after being on overseas duty. The study found that all reservists interviewed experience a range of challenges returning to work. While many reported an overall positive experience, some reported serious hardship and career impairment.

With reservists are playing an ever-increasing role in domestic and international deployments, special attention is needed for those who don't have all the benefits and protections of government job to soften the landing when it's time to go back to their day jobs (if indeed they still have one when they get home).

Below are selected extracts from the report that highlight some of the hardships faced by reservists trying to get back to work after deployment.

This study dispels the myth that reservists just slip back into their old life when they get back from deployment.

Here is what they had to say:

About being jobless and homeless

Jessica* was out of work for ten months after coming back from her overseas deployment. Within the military she had developed skills in a highly specialised area of logistics that were difficult to translate for the civilian job market. Jessica found it extremely problematic to secure employment which recognised her skills and the level of responsibility that she had previously held. Forced to fall back on her savings from what she earned during her deployment, Jessica had to reduce her cost of living by lodging with family or friends.

I had almost every family member and friends asking me constantly, ‘Where are you? Where are you living? Have you found work yet?’ So, [I’m] telling people… probably ten times a day… no, I don’t have a job yet. I’m still jobless and homeless.

About being pushed out

While he was deployed on a peacekeeping mission, Peter’s job in an executive position for a large manufacturing business was protected under the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 (Cth). He described how, within a few weeks of getting back, he was socially isolated from his work colleagues and felt pressured to leave his job.

I could sort of see the writing on the wall… alright, I think I’ve been culled… unofficially. They were going to wait me out.

About being held back

Tom, a reserve officer who also holds a senior management position in a government department, is concerned that her reserve experience is not adequately recognised by other senior managers in the department and that his service in the reserve was responsible for him missing out on opportunities to advance his career.

In my eyes, my [deployment] has set [my civilian career] back about five years.

About never getting away from it all

When discussing the career and personal choices involved in maintaining two careers, Bradley recounted the leave he had sacrificed to maintain his training commitments with the army reserve.

There’s generally no reserve leave in private industry, so you use your annual leave or take non-paid leave. I don’t think I’ve had a holiday for like ten years. It’s go to work, go on an army course, go to work, and then back to army again... [On top of that], I would say the army reserve has probably cost [me] five years of my civilian career... [promotion-wise] it also holds you back.

About changing jobs 18 times in 7 years

Owen was deployed overseas as a specialist administration officer within a large multi-national headquarters. While he enjoyed his experience and having the opportunity to use his specialist skills on an overseas deployment, he has not been able to maintain steady employment.

After getting back from [deployment], I transitioned back to civilian work quite easily, really easily actually ... and then, uh, my civilian career’s pretty much gone haywire ... I’ve had about eighteen jobs in the last seven years.

About being demoted

Ian recalled the experience of being exploited by his civilian employer whom he said took advantage of the Government support payments to hold his job while he was deployed.

Oh, I got shat on by my boss… He was paid by Defence to hold that position for me. So [the] sneaky bugger, when I got back, he said, ‘Oh look, I don’t really need you in the head office [anymore]. We’ve replaced you. You can go work in the retail store.’ So, I got shoved into the retail store, which I was dirty about. Thirty years old working in a retail shop... not for me mate.

About feeling abandoned by the ADF

Jason, who also struggled with his transition which included an extended period of unemployment, spoke about feeling abandoned by the ADF.

No one’s ever called me, ever. From the day I landed in Australia to now. No one’s ever done a follow up call or nothing … My post deployment psych screen was probably due two months ago, three months ago. No one’s followed up. I could be like totally wiggin’ out, homeless, mental issues... no one’s contacted me.

About the trepidation of dealing with DVA

Despite his combat experiences, Matthew is reluctant to get in touch with the DVA and other support services with regard illnesses caused by his military service. He explained that DVA has a poor reputation amongst veterans and that, in any case, he doesn’t know what support is available.

I don’t understand DVA. I’ve never made a DVA claim because... I don’t want the stress. I don’t want the problems. I [don’t] know the medical system. I haven’t applied for anything … I didn’t know how that all worked, especially in the reserves.

* Note: Pseudonyms have been used throughout his report to protect the identity of the participants

'Falling Out' Research Note
Download PDF • 3.64MB

Download the full research report


Mark Schroffel is a veteran, strategy consultant, and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families.


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