Veterans First, Deported Second

In American Public Health Association 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo


We aimed to identify social determinants of health affecting deported US veterans (DV), a demographic not well characterized in literature, to inform policy.


Medical and policy researchers partnered with the Deported Veterans Support House, a non-profit organization in Tijuana, Mexico. We conducted a Community Review Board in August 2018 to develop participant-informed mixed-methods including PhotoVoice, qualitative interviews, and a socio-demographic survey. From December 2018 to January 2019, fourteen DVs completed the survey. Twelve participants took photos over two weeks using phones or digital cameras. Semi-structured one-on-one interviews explored meanings behind photos. Interviews were audio-recorded. We analyzed transcriptions using a rapid template and matrix analysis.


Participants were male and entered the US as children. The average age was 55.8 years (range: 39-75). Half reported difficulties while assimilating back to civilian life. All reported lawful permanent resident status. 35% denied Spanish-proficiency during deportation. Their top priorities were returning to the US, income, and healthcare. Almost half felt unsafe near home (43%). Analysis indicated that: 1) Deportation resulted in chronic stress, 2) Separation from family was associated with loneliness, 3) Substance use was a coping mechanism, 4) Food insecurity and unreliable transportation were persistent issues, 5) Pseudo-families formed between DVs, and 6) Participants felt alienated in Mexican society. Many voiced disbelief about their situation, viewing it as betrayal or ongoing punishment. Yet many are loyal to the US and would serve the US military again.


DV rights need attention. Results show promising routes to address DV-identified concerns.