Veterans’ Violence Is An Uncounted Cost of War

May 13, 2014

By Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.

Unprovoked shootings at Fort Hood by army personnel in 2009, and 2014, require serious discussion.

The truth is that young men and women who are trained to kill and destroy the “enemy” sometimes turn against their own colleagues, members of their families and community, and even themselves!

Increasing Problem

A study of 1,388 combat veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which was published in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, reported that 33 percent had committed at least one act of non-combat-related violence or aggression toward others in the community in the past year. About 11 percent had engaged in severe violence, using a gun or knife or sexual violence against another person. Based on numbers reported to the VA just by 21 states, a CNN report (November 13, 2013) claimed that 22 veterans take their lives each day.

In fact violent, criminal, antisocial and self-destructive behavior among veterans starts during military service.  A 2012 Army report found that about 17,000 active-duty soldiers were in military detention or were awaiting judicial proceedings.

The problem appears to be increasing. For example, in five years since 2006, recorded sexual assault crimes within the military had doubled, from 665 cases to 1,313 l.

Very likely the hyper-vigilance and rapid response to threatening encounters learned in the military to enhance survival in combat, makes soldiers more aggressive and impulsive, thereby increasing the probability of behavior problems. For example, a 2012 Huffington Post report estimated that 223,000 Vietnam War veterans were in prison.

Adjustment to Civilian Life Often Hard for Vets

Exposure to actual or perceived traumatic experiences increases this probability even further. The October 2012 study mentioned above found that about 23 percent of the subjects with PTSD and high irritability, had been arrested for a criminal offense. And the November 1, 2013 issue of the International Business Times estimated 780,000 and 910,000 war veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD.

Upon return home, veterans face difficulty fitting back in their family, and adjusting to civilian life is hard for them. Further, they may be unemployed or underemployed for some time, feel that they have little or no control over their future, and may resort to substance abuse. All these factors increase the probability of dangerously unacceptable behavior.

Finally, it must be kept in mind that wars, for which veterans are trained, cost a lot of money and take resources away from human development and wellbeing. Also, GI deaths and non-fatal physical, mental, and emotional  injuries result not only in loss of human resources to the nation and support to families and local communities, but also in additional costs of caring for them and their families.

All this warrants some serious discussion by all of us, and those who govern us, about the effects and usefulness of wars. Our experience in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan shows it has become quite clear that it is easier to start a war, than to end it. Therefore, restraint is a prudent strategy.Φ

Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D. of Keizer is a retired neuropsychologist and Executive Director of the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (www.asiapeace.org). He can be reached at asiapeace@comcast.net.

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