Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Domestic Violence - A Veteran's Issue

On Veteran's Day, as we honor those who have served our country, we also honor military families who have made a great sacrifice in loaning us a loved one, often for years of active duty at a time. The sacrifice does not end for either when the loved one comes home, and we have a duty as a country to take care of our veterans and their families as they respond to the long-term physical and emotional effects of serving in a war.

Recently, Science Daily released a report linking the increasing number of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to an increase in family violence risk.

Research in the VA shows that male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence and more likely to be involved in the legal system.

"Community violence prevention agencies and services need to be included in a veteran's treatment plan to address the battering behaviors," says Hovmand.

"Veterans need to have multiple providers coordinating the care that is available to them, with each provider working on one treatment goal. Coordinated community response efforts such as this bring together law enforcement, the courts, social service agencies, community activists and advocates for women to address the problem of domestic violence. These efforts increase victim safety and offender accountability by encouraging interorganizational exchanges and communication.

"Veterans Day is an excellent reminder that we need to coordinate the services offered by the VA and in the community to ensure that our veterans and their families get the services they need when they need it," Matthieu and Hovmand say.
In October, a group of demonstrators stood outside Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC, staging a nonviolent protest against the violence they feel is perpetuated by our community’s military culture. The Fayetteville Observer reported:

Retired Col. Ann Wright served 29 years in the Army. The Hawaii resident said she came here out of concern for the four female service members slain in North Carolina this year. All were allegedly murdered by their husbands or boyfriends, also service personnel. Three were stationed at Fort Bragg.

“It’s military killing other military,” Wright said. “The military has to address this.”

Bragg leaders say they are doing the best they can. Pointing to a variety of preventive programs available on post, spokesman Tom McCollum said they are proactive in dealing with domestic and sexual abuse.

Soldiers are repeatedly briefed about the counseling services available at Womack Army Medical Center, at Army Community Services, and with Army chaplains. “We are sometimes baffled,” McCollum said. “Why would someone do that and especially with all the help that is available? A divorce is so much easier.”

The murders have attracted national media attention and caused many outsiders to wonder what is going on in our community. Why are so many spouses being slain here? Domestic violence is not exclusive to a military community, of course. Some studies say a third of all women have been abused — physically or sexually.

The recent spate of murders underscores the fact that domestic violence remains a significant problem here. Whatever preventive action is being taken at Fort Bragg, it isn’t enough.

It’s an old argument. We train men, and now women, to wage war, then we are baffled when they do that to each other.

It is driven in times of war by a national culture that can extol violence, conflating it with patriotism. And don’t overlook the general population raised on a steady diet of malevolence disguised as entertainment.

In a way, it’s surprising that there aren’t more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation. We are certain, nevertheless, that the demonstrators were on to something that we as a community need to address. This may become an epidemic that threatens us all.

It is a problem we, as a community, military and civilian, can’t ignore. It is also a problem that we have not, so far, effectively solved.

The Army has made a good-faith effort to provide programs and services to prevent domestic violence and save lives. But it’s not enough. The effort must be redoubled, the violence studied more carefully, and the intervention waged even more aggressively.
On this Veteran's Day, it is our challenge as an advocacy organization, and yours as a community, to help our military families learn choices other than violence and to make sure that military wives and partners are believed, are not silenced, and are able to access the services and support that they deserve.

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