The High Cost of Constant War: A Plague of Domestic Violence
April 7, 2014
Phillip Hatfield / San Francisco Chronicle & Stacy Bannerman / San Francisco Chronicle
Combat veterans are responsible for almost 21 percent of domestic violence nationwide. Veterans alone account for 20 percent of US suicides. We call the problem of veteran suicide an "epidemic," funding research, and creating new programs, hotlines and therapies aimed at prevention and intervention but we don't talk about veteran "intimate partner violence" -- which, effectively ensures that the catastrophic consequences remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed.
The High Cost of Constant War
Phillip Hatfield / San Francisco Chronicle
(April 4, 2014) -- The recent (and welcome) conclusion of the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair provides an opportunity to reflect on military discipline and sexual misconduct. I will not repeat the disturbing statistics, but no one disputes that there appears to have been a substantial increase in various forms of sexual misbehavior over the past decade.
While the individuals responsible should be prosecuted and, if convicted, punished for their crimes, such individual resolutions should not prevent us from considering systemic causes.
One of these causes involves the relatively recent acceleration of the growth in a key cultural difference that has driven the United States: our commitment to maintaining the United States in a constant state of what commentator Andrew Bacevich calls "semi-war."
The central tenets of this commitment can be summed up in three presuppositions that are rarely articulated but drive much, if not all, of American foreign policy:
1. The world is to be shaped.
2. The United States is to do the shaping.
3. The values to which the world must conform are strangely co-extensive with those the United States happens to embrace at a given moment.
Ordinarily, Bacevich is too polite to mention the fourth Washington rule: The killing and dying are to be performed by others. I am not so restrained. Political leaders, including the president need to ask, and to be asked, about their reticence regarding actual military service.
Permitting the sundry experts who populate our universities, think tanks and, increasingly, our national security establishment to invoke "other priorities" as a sufficient justification for some combination of arrogance, sloth and cowardice lets them, and us, off too easily. More important, they have little ability to consider the possible damage done to those we ask to kill, and die.
During the past 13 years, the United States has had significant military involvement in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. There are active drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and we just avoided intervening in Syria.
This is not the place to discuss the wisdom, or lack thereof, of any of those individual interventions, but it does clarify the problem: When immersed in a virtually constant state of semi-war, it is nearly impossible to view one's own military service as an isolated "interruption" of an otherwise "normal" life.
Military service becomes routinized for a large cohort of the working and lower-middle classes, and they receive almost no effective reintegration into a normal social environment. When the "recovery" from one deployment is the preparation for another, there exists little likelihood of fully rejoining a normal support structure. It is unsurprising that those separated from such structures are more likely to exceed the limits of acceptable behavior, with tragic results for themselves and those around them.
As a country, we must learn to practice extreme skepticism toward those political leaders who place excessive faith in the use of military force as a solution. Even in those instances where military action appears justified, the empirical data indicate that even qualified success is unlikely, and we should vigorously question those who support such approaches. Voters need to understand that the costs of war extend far beyond dollars and casualties, dangerously stretching the soldiers' and the nation's moral fabric, even when it does not quite tear.
Phillip Hatfield, a lawyer, served 32 years in the military, enlisting as a private in 1981 and retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2013. His career took him to Ukraine, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Kuwait and Iraq. In 1993, he served as a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge Research Centre for International Law. He lives in Fremont.
High Risk of Military Domestic
Violence on the Home Front
Stacy Bannerman / San Francisco Chronicle
(April 4, 2014) -- There have been days when there are more military family members killed by their veteran on the home front than troops killed in action on the war front. March 23, 2012, was one of them. Kristy Huddleston wasn't a soldier who had already served multiple tours, or a combat veteran traumatized by war, but her husband was.
That put her at a higher risk of experiencing potentially lethal domestic violence than virtually any other demographic in the nation. As Kristy lay on the kitchen floor, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head, her 10-year-old son called 911. The murder trial of Bourne Huddleston, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, is on the docket for April 7 in Jackson County, Oregon.
Combat veterans are responsible for almost 21 percent of domestic violence nationwide, linked to the development of post traumatic stress disorder.
This is comparable to the fact that veterans alone account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides. We call the problem of veteran suicide an "epidemic," funding research, convening conferences, and creating new programs, hotlines and therapies aimed at prevention, intervention and reducing the stigma of seeking mental health care. But we don't talk about veteran intimate partner violence at all, effectively ensuring that the catastrophic consequences remain largely unacknowledged and unaddressed.
Even as the overall frequency of domestic abuse in the United States declined, levels of intimate partner violence within the post-9/11 military and veterans' communities began to explode. Calls from people affiliated with the military more than tripled from 2006 to 2011.
During roughly the same period at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, the number of stationed soldiers charged with domestic violence surged, and domestic abuse in the Army skyrocketed as an increasing number of soldiers returned from lengthy, repeat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rates of PTSD began to rise.
Research has found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD were "significantly more likely to perpetrate violence toward their partners," with over 80 percent committing at least one act of violence in the previous year, and almost half at least one severe act, including strangulation, stabbing and shooting. This is more than 14 times higher than the general civilian population.
Traumatic brain injury, which is considered the signature wound of the post-9/11 wars, also increases the likelihood of aggression and impulsivity, and is linked to veteran domestic violence. And that violence has markers that distinguish it from the cycle of violence perpetrated by batterers, under the standard definition of domestic violence recognized nationally and internationally.
Unlike typical civilian domestic violence, veteran intimate partner violence often occurs in the absence of an attempt to exert financial control; it is an explosion of violence, rather than an escalation; there is typically no "honeymoon" period after the event, as the veteran withdraws in shame; and the violence is more likely to be lethal or potentially lethal in severity.
There is a direct correlation between PTSD severity and intimate partner violence severity, according to April Gerlock, who has conducted VA-funded research of veterans and their partners. She's one of the nation's leading investigators of veteran interpersonal violence, has worked for the Veterans Administration for three decades and is married to a Vietnam veteran.
"I have a lot of empathy for the veteran," said Gerlock, but she is concerned that the couples counseling available through the VA sends a message to the wives (who are frequently the primary caregivers) of wounded warriors that "you need to put up with this because this person's disabled."
Gerlock went on to say, "The VA is in a fantastic position to address all of this, but there is nothing systemic available."
The VA does what Congress mandates, and while the Violence Against Women Act includes provisions to protect Native American women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, it offers no protection whatsoever for the wives and caregivers of combat veterans with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury.
And make no mistake; this is an exceptionally vulnerable population because -- and only because -- of the invisible wounds of war. The confluence of unprecedented levels of traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other mental health disorders puts the post-9/11 generation of veterans at extremely high risk of perpetrating violence in the home.
There are multiple barriers that prevent veterans' wives from seeking and receiving assistance, not the least of which is that providers often lack the cultural competence, training and specialized services to effectively support the women who fell in love with the men who went to war.
That's the gap that the Blue Shield of California Foundation has been working to fill since 2009, when the foundation, based in San Francisco, started an initiative to prevent violence in the homes of military families. Under the leadership of Bess Bendet, director of the Blue Shield Against Violence program, the foundation began conducting research and convening community providers and stakeholders to discuss policy and strategies for serving the victims of returning veteran violence.
Since then, Blue Shield Against Violence has facilitated collaborative endeavors and provided grant funding and cultural competence trainings. It is the first - and only - foundation in the nation to identify and address the epidemic of abuse at the hands of America's wounded warriors.
Mitigating mental health casualties in troops and reducing or eliminating domestic violence suffered by the families of veterans make a compelling argument for limiting the number of combat tours. Congress needs to take up "one and done" now, before the next war begins.
Congress should also convene a joint hearing on service-connected domestic abuse with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and include advocates, military spouses and veterans' caregivers.
The Kristy Huddleston Act, which would authorize the provision of services and transitional assistance to family caregivers who become victims of veteran domestic violence, needs to move past the desks of Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and be passed into law before we add another number to the body count of service-connected domestic violence.
It's been a steep learning curve because returning veteran violence "didn't fit typical civilian violence and no one really knew what to do about it," Bendet said. "But if we are really a foundation that cares about the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to do something."
And if we are really a nation that cares about the cost of war, we need to include somewhere in the casualty count those who are killed when the war comes home.
Spousal Violence When Troops Return
The extent of service-connected domestic violence is unknown, even to the Pentagon, whose data reflect only child abuse and domestic abuse reported to the Department of Defense Family Assistance Program and criminal offenses reported for active duty service branches.
According to the military, reports of spousal abuse were on the decline in the early years of the global war on terror but began creeping up around 2006. They continued to do so for the next six years, even as significant numbers of troops were on lengthy overseas deployments and the military escalated sanctions for domestic abuse.
Active-duty families already had significant barriers to reporting domestic violence, but the potential loss of the household's primary, often only, source of income, along with base housing, military health insurance and retirement benefits, made some military spouses hesitant to report. However, reports of abuse by intimate partners or former spouses, for whom both the barriers and consequences to reporting are greatly diminished, jumped from 304 in 2006 to 909 in 2012.
Given that all domestic abuse is self-reported, it is generally accepted that it is underreported. Also, the accuracy of the military's statistics on domestic violence has been debated by advocates, the Government Accountability Office and even military officials.
What hasn't been debated is that recurrent deployments increase the probability of combat trauma, which, in turn, raises the risk of domestic violence. In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings last week, the Army Public Affairs Office was unable to respond to requests for more information.These are the data we do have:
-- Frequency of domestic abuse nationwide declined from 1994 to 2010 by 64 percent.
-- Frequency of domestic violence calls from people affiliated with the military from 2006 to 2011 more than tripled.
-- Numbers of Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers charged with domestic violence between 2006 and 2009 rose more than 250 percent.
-- Domestic abuse in the Army from 2003 to 2010 rose by 177 percent.
Sources: Department of Justice, National Domestic Violence Hotline, New York Times, Department of Defense
Stacy Bannerman is the author of "When the War Came Home" (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She has testified before Congress three times and has secured passage of two bills supporting military families in Oregon. She lives in southern Oregon with her husband, an Iraq war veteran. www.stacybannerman.com.
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