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I-Os Serving Those Who Serve


by Nathan D. Ainspan, PhD

How SIOP Members Help the Military and Veterans

What comes to mind when you think of psychologists working with members of the military or veterans?  Clinicians working with them on their mental health needs?  America’s Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) are the largest employers of psychologists in the world. According to the American Psychological Association, 7% of its membership - nearly 8,000 people -works for the DoD, and the VA counts 5,000 psychologists on its payroll. Although the majority are clinicians, a number of industrial and organizational psychologists (I-Os) work for the two agencies in a number of capacities to create programs, improve governmental organizations, and provide support to improve the lives of veterans.

I-O psychologists are helping serve those who serve the nation through military service in some of these departments in the VA and DoD:

At the VA, I-O psychologists work at the agency’s headquarters to advise the second-largest agency in the federal government on its personnel policies and programs.  The VA’s National Center for Organization Development oversees individual and organizational assessments, organizational consultation and interventions, and supportive services to strengthen VA workforce engagement, satisfaction, and development to improve services to American veterans and their families.

Working alongside clinicians, I-Os are engaged with the VA to understand and promote the psychosocial benefits of employment to wounded and disabled veterans.  Research (Ainspan, Bryan, & Penk, 2016) has demonstrated the benefits to employment of veterans who have been wounded and injured in service to the country.  SIOP members are part of the program development and research conducted at places like the VA’s Social and Community Reintegration Research (SoCRR) program, creating and implementing research to advance the understanding of how veterans’ disabilities impact community involvement (e.g. work, education, family, and social relationships), and to improve clinical practices designed to help veterans sustain full and active lives in the community.

The Office of People Analytics is the center for I-O research at the Department of Defense (the nation’s largest government agency). OPA was recently created to utilize big-data analytics to better understand key components of the service members’ career paths and how policy and environmental changes impact their performance.  The department maintains extensive data on every service member and conducts numerous surveys and draws upon teams of SIOP members in OPA to conduct these studies, analyze the results, and report on them to leadership.

The Defense Personnel Advisory Services uses I-Os to advance its vision of being “the Federal government’s premier provider of innovative and fiscally responsible civilian personnel policies, HR solutions, and advisory services” in the HR realm.

The Defense Civilian Personnel and Family Support Center employs numerous SIOP members.  This agency is composed of offices that handle the military-to-civilian transition process, the reintegration programs for reservists and guardsmen returning home, and the program that provides disability accommodations technology to employees and service members with disabilities. Four SIOP members work there – three of them in the Transition to Veterans Program Office and another in the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programs.

Each of the military services also counts I-O psychologists in their ranks, both in uniform and as civilian employees.  These SIOP members conduct research, develop policies, lead projects, and provide guidance and support to the service members of each branch:

  • In the Army, the Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences has one of the largest group of I-Os and has locations around the country to conduct research on soldier training, leader development, soldier performance measurements, attitude assessment, sustaining complex task performance, personnel issues, organizational effectiveness, and foundational research.
  • The Office of Naval Research conducts research for both the Navy and the Marine Corps. Most I-Os are located at the Navy Personnel Research, Studies, and Technology center in Millington, TN, which works to deliver innovative science and technology that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of Navy human resource functions and processes.
  • The Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing looks at human performance in the Air Force and seeks to improve the Airman community optimizing human performance and sustaining a ready force.
  • Each service has a military academy to train officers and the next generation of leaders.  These academies include a diverse group of I-Os that focus on teaching strategic leadership, teamwork, resiliency, and other critical lessons in organizational science. The major academies and training institutes include: the National Defense University, the Army War College, Naval War College, the Air Force Academy, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

Outside of the DoD and VA, a number of agencies are involved with improving the lives of veterans. SIOP members are integral in these agencies providing research, guidance, and direction to help improve the services and programs for our nation’s military members and veterans. Some of these agencies include:

Finally, with the launch of SIOP’s Military and Veterans Employment Initiative, SIOP members with an interest in helping the military and veteran populations have an avenue to volunteer and help the government support our military personnel, veterans, and military families.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official policy or position of the Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs, the United States Government, or any of the military services.


Ainspan, N. D., Bryan, C. J., & Penk, W. E. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of psychosocial interventions for veterans and service members: A guide for the non-military mental health clinician. New York, NY: Oxford.