“Nobody's ever asked me what it's like”: The role of family networks in the transitions of injured soldiers engaging with higher education.
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An increasing number of injured service personnel returning from active combat duty will not be redeployed and many of them face discharge from military service. A number of these men and women have sustained life-threatening injuries which may, if the individual survives, result in reduced physical and mental health functioning. This research is focused on the transitions and processes that injured personnel go through when contemplating a new career through engagement with a higher education programme of study.
An in-depth qualitative case study of networks of intimacy was used, an approach developed by Heath and Fuller (2007) to explore how, and in what ways, decisions are made within networks of family/significant others. In this case study it was with regard to transitions from a military to civilian culture, where traumatic life-changing events had impacted on the men and their families. As Johnson et al (2008:20) believe, in the case of educational decision-making, it is co-constructed within social networks and interviewing multiple networks facilitates our understanding 'beyond the individual'.
The research found that, by supporting their injured ex-combatants (IECs) in complex and difficult transitions, the family network also had to address their own social identities, established attachments and kinship routines and adjust to new ways of thinking and feeling. However whilst the family network is seen as a vital component in the 'operational effectiveness' for transitional readjustment, the Armed Forces Covenant , which states that supporting IECs is ‘an obligation for life’ (Ministry of Defence 2011:8), does not acknowledge that this obligation falls overwhelmingly on the IECs’ families, particularly the wives who receive little support.
In both the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) there is an absence of research that considers how family and social networks influence transitions into civilian life and especially decisions to undertake higher education programmes. The thesis explores how widening participation policies can be implemented more successfully to support IECs and their families, and how higher education institutions in the UK should improve staff training to raise awareness and understanding of the uniquely special needs that IECs have as a result of their injuries and military experiences.
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