SARA KINTZLE is an associate research professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families. Since joining USC in 2013, Kintzle has earned a reputation as an emerging national and international leader on issues related to military service.
Kintzle has focused on building an expertise in the life experiences of individuals who have served in the military with particular emphasis on transition from active duty to civilian life. Her research has broadly focused on: 1) the building and validation of military transition theory as a mechanism for understanding the challenges faced by current and former service members; 2) leading research studies aimed at providing insight into the experience of service members and veterans, including risk and protective factors related to successful military transition, challenges to psychological and physical health, risk for suicide, sexual harassment, stalking and sexual assault, and securing post-service employment; and 3) the development and testing of interventions, informed by both theory validation and research findings, aimed at the prevention of adverse outcomes for service members and veterans.
Along with Kintzle’s extensive research experience, she also has a strong dedication to teaching, mentoring and service. She is currently the vice-chair of the school’s military track curriculum and co-director of the recently implemented military academic center, which focuses on the recruitment, retention and positive graduate experience of student veterans and those enrolled in the military track. Kintzle has authored over 30 publications—including 18 in peer-reviewed journals and an additional five currently under review—and recently signed a contract with Springer Press to publish a book entitled Military Transition Theory. She currently serves as an associate editor for the journal Traumatology and on the editorial board for the Journal of Military Behavioral Health.
University of Georgia: Ph.D.
University of Iowa: M.S.W.
University of Iowa: B.S.W.
University of Iowa: B.A.
Areas of Expertise (3)
Industry Expertise (4)
Media Appearances (1)
VA offers mental health help to vets with other-than-honorable discharges
Take Two online
"Really, what they're offering at this point is emergency services," Sara Kintzle, told Take Two's Libby Denkmann. Kintzle is a Research Associate Professor with USC's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. She explained what this new policy provides for veterans.
"If you are feeling low; if you're feeling that suicide might be an option for you, you have the option to go into emergency mental health services."
Kintzle is the co-author of a recent USC study that looked at the transition from military to civilian life. She found a great discrepancy in the psychology of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges to those with honorable ones.
"The rates of PTSD, the rates of depression and suicide ideation in those with a less-than-honorable discharge were even more alarming," Kintzle said. "Even more concerning is that... Over 85 percent of the veterans [with a less-than-honorable discharge] in the study who screened positive for PTSD depression or suicide were not receiving any help" ...
Research Reports & Projects (4)
The State of the American Veteran: The San Francisco Veterans Study
"The State of the American Veteran: The San Francisco Veterans Study” by the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) outlines the findings of a survey conducted 2016-17 of 722 veterans living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This comprehensive study of the military population represents the fourth overall—and third in the state of California. It explored numerous areas, such as transition challenges, employment and finances, housing, health and access to veteran services.
Emerging as a theme across various studies is that veterans throughout the state and the nation encounter significant transition issues. The San Francisco Veterans Study highlights that separating service members are not being engaged effectively or early enough in their transition process.
The State of the American Veteran: The Chicagoland Veterans Study
"The State of the American Veteran: The Chicagoland Veterans Study” by the USC School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families outlines the findings of a survey conducted in 2015-16 of more than 1,200 veterans living in Cook, DuPage, Lake and Will counties in Illinois. This comprehensive study of the military population, which also includes follow-up focus groups with 20 veterans, is an extension of similar studies conducted in Southern California. It explored numerous areas, such as transition challenges, employment and finances, housing, health and access to veterans services.
Key among the findings is that many service members leave the military without having lined up some key elements that could complicate their transition home. This study also looked into military identity, perception of veteran status and social connectedness.
The State of the American Veteran: The Orange County Veterans Study
“The State of the American Veteran: The Orange County Veterans Study” by the USC School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families outlines the findings of a survey conducted in 2014 of more than 1,200 veterans living in Orange County. This comprehensive study of the military population, which also includes follow-up focus groups with 35 veterans, is an extension of a similar study conducted in Los Angeles. It explored numerous areas, such as transition challenges, employment and finances, housing, health and access to veterans services.
Key among the findings is that many service members leaving the military and returning to Orange County are not prepared for the transition home and have a range of needs that cannot be easily provided by a single organization. Further, mental health is a concern for this population, especially among the most recent generation of veterans who have high rates of suicidal thoughts.
The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study
“The State of the American Veteran: The Los Angeles County Veterans Study” by the USC School of Social Work’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families outlines the findings of a survey conducted fall 2013 of more than 1,350 veterans living in Los Angeles County. The first comprehensive study of a large urban military population, which also includes follow-up focus groups with 72 veterans, explored numerous areas, such as transition challenges, employment and finances, housing, health and access to veterans services.
Key among the findings is that many service members leaving the military and returning to LA County are not prepared for the transition home and have a range of needs that cannot be easily provided by a single organization.
Articles & Publications (6)
Sara Kintzle, Nicholas Barr, Gisele Corletto and Carl A. Castro
Service members who transition out of the military often face substantial challenges during
their transition to civilian life. Leaving military service requires establishing a new community as
well as sense of connectedness to that community. Little is known about how social connectedness
may be related to other prominent transition outcomes, particularly symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). The purpose of this study was to explore the role of social connectedness in
the development of PTSD, as well as its relationship to the known risk factors of combat exposure
and discharge status. Data used were drawn from a needs assessment survey of 722 veterans.
A path model was specified to test direct and indirect effects of combat experiences, non-honorable
discharge status, and social connectedness on PTSD symptoms. Results demonstrated positive direct
effects for combat experiences and non-honorable discharge status on PTSD symptoms while social
connectedness demonstrated a negative direct effect. Both combat experiences and non-honorable
discharge status demonstrated negative direct effects on social connectedness and indirect on PTSD
through the social connectedness pathway. Study findings indicate social connectedness may be
an important factor related to PTSD in veterans as well as an intervention point for mitigating risk
related to combat exposure and discharge status.
Research examining military families is often limited by data collection challenges. Big data approaches can provide greater data access and a more robust picture of individuals, groups, and systems. In this article, the authors discuss the use of big data for military family research. First, they describe the Person-Event Data Environment, a big data solution currently used by the Department of Defense. Then, they discuss several datasets that incorporate constructs of interest to family researchers, including the Family Global Assessment Tool (GAT), a dataset on psychosocial well-being. Next, the authors describe the sample of spouses who have completed the Family GAT (n = 1250). Finally, they discuss theoretical frameworks that provide a foundation for big data research on military families, noting potential future directions.
This study examines the association between veterans’ physical and mental health symptoms and perceptions of adverse child and relationship functioning. Veteran responses to the PHQ-15, assessing physical health; the PCL-C, assessing PTSD symptoms; and reports of family challenges were drawn from a countywide veterans survey. Findings indicate physical health (OR = 1.048; 95% CI, 1.002, 1.098) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomatology (OR = 1.019; 95% CI, 1.004, 1.034) independently predicted increased child difficulties. Similarly, physical health (OR = 1.081; 95% CI, 1.012, 1.154) and PTSD symptoms (OR = 1.043; 95% CI, 1.022, 1.065) independently impacted relationship difficulties. Using standardized coefficients to compare, PTSD symptoms were a stronger predictor across both models. Results highlight the dual importance of assessing both veterans’ physical and mental health symptoms to understand family functioning. Additionally, these findings underscore the importance of longitudinal research, which can follow families beyond separation from the military.
This study describes the relationship between military sexual assault (MSA) and various health and behavioral outcomes among a community-based sample of male (n = 2,208) and female (n = 327) veterans. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to assess the relationship of MSA with physical health symptoms (PHQ-15), probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; PCL) and depression (PHQ-9), risk-taking behaviors, and alcohol use (AUDIT-C) among men and women. Among the sample, 4.8% of male and 40.6% of female veterans reported experiencing MSA. Men who experienced MSA had approximately 4 times the odds of physical health symptoms, and probable PTSD and depression, compared with those without MSA (p < .001 for all). Male veterans also had significantly increased odds of taking unnecessary health risks (p < .001), risking a sexually transmitted disease (STD; p = .005), driving while intoxicated (p = .022), taking unnecessary life risks (p < .001), and using tobacco (p = .012) in the last year if they had experienced MSA. Women who experienced MSA had approximately double the odds of physical health symptoms (p = .002), 3 times the odds of depressive symptoms (p < .001), and almost 7 times the odds of probable PTSD (p < .001). Female veterans with MSA also had significantly greater odds of taking unnecessary health risks (p = .003), taking unnecessary life risks (p = .001), and using tobacco (p = .003) in the last year than those without MSA. These findings highlight the unique treatment needs of male and female victims of MSA, the potential long-term impact of MSA, and the need for timely assessment of MSA to help mitigate negative health outcomes among veterans.
The State of the American Veteran: The Chicagoland Veterans Study, conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR) and in partnership with Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work, is an effort to provide data-driven recommendations for serving the large population of veterans residing in Chicago and the surrounding area. Service members encounter a series of needs as they transition out of the military. These include securing employment and housing, addressing physical or mental health issues and adjusting to civilian culture. The ease through which this transition is made has a profound impact on post-service well-being. In an effort to examine how Chicagoland veterans have managed this transition as well as the current state of their overall needs, the Chicagoland Veterans Study surveyed 1,294 veterans living in Cook, DuPage, Lake and Will counties. In addition, focus group interviews were conducted to supplement the findings from the survey.
The findings from the current study closely mirror those observed from similar studies conducted in Southern California in Los Angeles and Orange counties (Castro, Kintzle, & Hassan, 2014). That many findings and recommendations are similar across cities and states is critically important as it indicates a national veteran transition effort is needed and that veteran transition is not just an issue for a single city or state. Further, commonalities across cities and states indicate a broader systemic issue, which will require systemwide changes.
This study investigated relationships between symptom clusters of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal ideation, suicide plan, and non-suicidal risk to life behavior (NSRB) behavior in a sample of 1,356 pre- and post-9/11-era military veterans. After controlling for a positive PTSD screen, results indicated that suicidal ideation was significantly associated with re-experiencing symptoms (OR = 1.12), White race (OR = 1.82) and use of pain medication (COR = 1.62). Suicide plan was associated with avoidance symptoms (OR = 1.08), and NSRB with hyperarousal symptoms (OR = 1.11) and severe alcohol use (OR = 2.10). Standardized coefficients indicated that re-experiencing symptoms (b = .38) were a stronger predictor of suicidal ideation than White race (b = .16) or pain medication (b = .12) and that hyperarousal symptoms (b = .36) were a stronger predictor of NSRB than severe alcohol use (b = .15). The interpersonal–psychological theory of suicide was used to frame a discussion of military specific suicide risk as well as the risk of premature death among veterans who endorse NSRB but not suicidality. We suggest that this subset of veterans may be overlooked by traditional screening methods while nonetheless presenting with great risk for premature death.