Criminal Legal Involvement Among Recently Separated Veterans: Findings From the LIMBIC Study

Eric B. Elbogen, Megan Amuan, Eamonn Kennedy, Shannon M. Blakey, Robert C. Graziano, Dina Hooshyar, Jack Tsai, Richard E. Nelson, Megan E. Vanneman, Audrey L. Jones, Mary Jo Pugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: This study investigated individual-level and neighborhood-level predictors of criminal legal involvement of veterans during the critical transition period from military to civilian life. Hypotheses: We hypothesized that substance use, mental health, and personality disorders will increase the incidence of criminal legal involvement, which will be highest among veterans living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods after military discharge. Method: We analyzed data from a longitudinal cohort study of 418,624 veterans who entered Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care after leaving the military. Department of Defense (DoD) data on clinical diagnoses, demographics, and military history were linked to VA data on neighborhood of residence and criminal legal involvement. Results: Criminal legal involvement in the 2 years following military discharge was most strongly predicted by younger age, substance use disorder, and being male. Other predictors included the military branch in which veterans served, deployment history, traumatic brain injury, serious mental illness, personality disorder, having fewer physical health conditions, and living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. These factors combined in multivariable analysis yielded a very large effect size for predicting criminal legal involvement after military separation (area under the curve =.82). The incidence of criminal legal involvement was 10 times higher among veterans with co-occurring substance use disorder, serious mental illness, and personality disorder than among veterans with none of these diagnoses, and these rates were highest among veterans residing in more socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the largest longitudinal study of risk factors for criminal legal involvement in veterans following military discharge. The findings supported the hypothesis that veterans with co-occurring mental disorders living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods were at higher risk of criminal legal involvement, underscoring the complex interplay of individual-level and neighborhood-level risk factors for criminal legal involvement after veterans leave the military. These results can inform policy and programs, such as the DoD Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the VA Military to Civilian Readiness Pathway program (M2C Ready), to enhance community reintegration and prevent criminal legal involvement among veterans transitioning from military to civilian life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-394
Number of pages10
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022


  • Criminal legal involvement
  • Military
  • Social disadvantage
  • Substance use
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • General Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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