When unmitigated, this hostility can erupt into domestic violence. Research is beginning to identify the depth of the problem among military families and support programs are developing that intercede. Still experts agree — more needs to be done.
Casey Taft, Ph.D, director of Strength at Home, a counseling program centered at the Providence VA in Rhode Island, has been working to expand the concept to VA centers nationwide. With sessions for military men already identified as exhibiting aggressive behavior towards partners, and a track for couples, the goal is conflict prevention.
“One thing we have found in our research is when military veterans have PTSD and experience trauma it can cause them to misinterpret situations as threatening,” explained Taft. It is behavior learned in war where turning all emotions into anger “helps them stay alive.” Still, that doesn’t excuse abusive acts, he stressed. “They own their behavior.”
“Experts estimate 11 percent to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans experience PTSD, with some suggesting as many as 30 percent.”
Train the trainer
A military culture of pride and strength has kept many away from helpful services. Outspoken advocates like Medal of Honor recipient Ty Carter, who opened up to David Letterman about the benefits of PTSD treatment, may start to lift perceived stigma. Experts estimate 11 percent to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans experience PTSD, with some suggesting as many as 30 percent.
“Talking about the trauma is really the best way to treat PTSD,” said Taft. “One of the things we do is help them come up with realistic views of other people and their intentions. Retrain them in how to approach situations.”
The community needs to become engaged too, espoused Anne L. Demers, associate professor of health science at San Jose State University and a creator of the Welcoming Warriors Home course that helps veterans reintegrate and find jobs. ‘Train the trainer’ events have already been held for California colleges, noted Demers. “Ultimately, we would like to see a similar program go national.”
“Talking about the trauma is really the best way to treat PTSD. One of the things we do is help them come up with realistic views of other people and their intentions. Retrain them in how to approach situations.”
In a study commissioned by Blue Shield of California Foundation, Demers found that anger, verbal abuse and physical aggression were more likely to occur when there were low levels of social support. In June, the Aspen Institute took a major first step sponsoring a conference on veteran issues that brought together social service, academic and military factions.
Another problem is the extremely low penetration of military families — only 1 percent. “Ninety-nine percent of the population has (little knowledge) about the military,” said Demers, whose son did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not to forget the smallest of the impacted, Eliza Daniely-Woolfolk, CEO of Alternatives to Domestic Violence which serves Riverside County, Calif., home to the March Air Reserve base, embraces children along with women in its Military Families Initiative program. “If there are children they don’t go unscathed,” commented Daniely-Woolfolk.
Children encountering violent behavior can suffer from nightmares, low-self esteem, depression, eating disorders and engage in cutting. “These children are resilient, but are very private reflecting the military culture. You have to work with them to develop trust in an outside system,” she said.
“Our goal as an agency is to intersect and address those issues so that they don’t exhibit the same behaviors.”
By: Laura Klepacki