A survey released Thursday contends that a majority of post-9/11 Orange County veterans feel "significantly underprepared" for civilian life after leaving the military.
The study, commissioned by the Newport Beach-based Orange County Community Foundation, found that 61% of post-9/11 veterans say they're having difficulties adjusting to a civilian lifestyle while another 44% screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Pre-9/11 veterans fared better, however, with fewer respondents, 24%, testing positive for PTSD and 30% saying they're not adjusting well in their civilian lives, organizers said.
"Veterans are not broken, but veterans are challenged with their transition home," said Anthony Hassan, director of the USC School of Social Work's Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, which conducted the study.
Organizers released their project titled "The State of the American Veteran: The Orange Veterans Study," during a presentation Thursday at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa hotel in Costa Mesa.
The study gathered data from 1,227 Orange County veterans, 90% of them men, through paper and online surveys, as well as group interviews. About 40% of respondents served in the Army, with another 25% from the Navy and 21% from the Marine Corps. The remaining 14% served in either the Air Force or Coast Guard.
A similar study was completed last year for Los Angeles County veterans. Hassan, a retired Air Force officer, stressed the need for data assembled at the local level.
"Without local data, people aren't listening," he said.
Solutions, such as showing veterans where they can get help or organizing peer-to-peer networks, "can start off small, [and then] we see what works and scale it," Hassan said.
Organizers said the study marks Orange County's first comprehensive needs assessment for its veteran population.
Other findings include veterans' struggles with finding employment and permanent housing.
According to the study, 74% of post-9/11 veterans didn't have a job when leaving the service, and 71% said they didn't receive any help finding one. Nearly 30% are unemployed and looking for work, and 40% feel that employers could see them as "broken" or potentially dangerous.
The study added that 35% of post-9/11 veterans don't secure housing before arriving back in Orange County, and nearly 20% of them were homeless within the last 30 days.
Fifty percent of Orange County veterans reported having difficulties with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"We are obligated, as a society, to take care of those who have taken care of us," said retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, who served as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Mullen echoed Hassan's sentiment that aiding veterans must be accomplished on the local level.
"I don't have much faith in Washington," he said.
Orange County Community Foundation President Shelley Hoss said her organization is up to the task. In 2011, the foundation started a veterans initiative, which plans to find partnerships with local donors, leaders and businesses.
"We are committed to helping our veterans deal with the challenges in this transition," Hoss said.