Brewster and Co-Workers Explained:

A point of connection? Well-being, the veteran identity and older adults.

Reference: Brewster, L., McWage, B., & Clark, S. J. A. (2020). A point of connection? Well-being, the veteran identity and older adults. Ageing and Society, 1-22.


What were the research aims?

  • To explore experiences of well-being in a particular older adult community: those who have served in the armed forces
  • To identify how veteran identity serves to affect wellbeing and facilitate social connection

How was the problem approached?

  • 27 male participants, 3 female participants; aged between 68-99 years old and 16 reported having a disability.
  • Participants had enlisted voluntarily, been conscripted or undertaken national service. This service had been conducted in wartime and peacetime (including nuclear testing on Christmas Island)
  • Semi-structured interview approach, 60-120mins in length; framed around themes relating to military experience, comradeship and returning home
  • Questions included asking about life before joining the military, and experiences during service
  • Audio recorded and transcribed
  • Analysis was conducted using a data-driven constant comparison approach; themes were developed from the data.

What did they find?

  • Three themes were identified: experiences of loneliness, fictive kinship and importance of the use of military visual culture in the role of maintaining a point of connection and identifying others with shared experiences
  • Post-military service identity of being a veteran connected them to a community that went beyond association with specific experiences
  • Veteran identity was considered to be related to the idea that joining the military was a “transformative experience” which changed a person, affecting their identity long after leaving the forces
  • Acceptance of a veteran identity was related to increasing age and the need to share their stories before they were lost

Loneliness and social isolation

  • Few spoke directly about feeling socially isolated or experiencing feelings of loneliness; instead, emphasis was placed on friends dying, attending funerals and the difficulty in talking to those who had not served in the military
  • Talking and sharing stories helps to reduce the feeling of loneliness and increase social connections.

Fictive kinship

  • Ex-service colleagues considered important; military service led to friendships that could stand the absence over time.
  • Telling stories of military experience allowed a bond to be maintained and friendships preserved
  • A common bond of service is shared – the veteran community would look after each other in times of need. Even in death, the bonds of service meant they would pay respect and recognise you as a member of the family
  • Social networking helped maintain connections
  • Use of humour, teasing and banter – only for use by the veterans, civilians are not welcome to join in

Military visual culture

  • HM Armed Forces Veterans’ Lapel Badge (launched in 2004) identified as a confirmatory power that connects veterans.
  • Informal networks formed by wearing the badge – helped veterans to identify those who had served among older veterans, open up conversation and maintain fictive kinship
  • Created a form of social support and acted as a visible symbol of their service – allowing them to feel part of a community

How did the researchers interpret their results?

  • The importance of sharing one’s military experience allows a veteran to give their life meaning and purpose.
  • Helping other veterans and being part of a community was considered to be positive.
  • Reporting oneself as a “veteran” led to older adults’ “othering” themselves and placed them outside of the civilian community – leading to feelings of loneliness
  • Older veterans expressed a specific need to connect with other veterans to ensure a feeling of belonging.
  • Stories of service allowed a bond to be formed to strength relationships and create fictive kin relationships
  • The veterans badge and use of social media were used to create new relationships among the veteran community.
  • Although the sharing of stories was important for the immediate veteran community, these stories actually reflected the feeling of being alienated from family and friends who had not served.
  • Interventions often use professional staff to deliver support, however there may be a role for informal peer support as veterans agree with the idea that only other veterans can understand their experiences

Who did this research?

This paper used data from an on-going research project funded by HM Treasury Aged Veterans Fund, administer by the Royal British Legion.
Supporting Resources


Key Messages




Links to the research paper


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