A new survey has identified factors that may place a U.S. veteran at risk of aggression when they return home after deployment.
Interestingly, combat exposure or post-traumatic stress disorder are not always to blame and in fact, rank in the middle of the list of predictive factors.
The survey was designed to identify which U.S. military veterans may be at most risk of aggression after deployment and what strategies could potentially help reduce likelihood of violence when service members return home.
Researchers examined protective factors that are important in preventing violence, including employment, meeting basic needs, living stability, social support, spiritual faith, ability to care for oneself, perceived self-determination, and resilience (ability to adapt to stress).
Scientists found that veterans with these factors in place were 92 percent less likely to report severe violence than veterans who did not endorse these factors.
Researchers discovered a majority of veterans (over three-quarters of those studied) did endorse most of these protective factors and thus posed a low threat of violence.
The study was led by Eric B. Elbogen, Ph.D., research director of the Forensic Psychiatry Program in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a psychologist in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It was reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“When you hear about veterans committing acts of violence, many people assume that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat exposure are to blame,” Elbogen said. “But our study shows that is not necessarily true.”
Factors that were associated with violence included alcohol misuse, criminal background, as well as veterans’ living, work, social, and financial circumstances.
Wealth was an issue as the survey found that veterans who didn’t have enough money to cover basic needs were more likely to report aggressive behavior than veterans with PTSD.
“Our study suggests the incidence of violence could be reduced by helping veterans develop and maintain protective factors in their lives back home,” Elbogen said.
Researchers surveyed nearly 1,400 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001 and was conducted between July 2009 and April 2010.
One-third of survey respondents self-identified committing an act of aggression towards others in the past year, most of which involved relatively minor aggressive behavior.
Eleven percent of the sample reported more severe violence.
This discovery shows that although the majority of study participants did not report aggression, the potential for violence does remain a significant concern among a subset of returning veterans, Elbogen said.
Co-author Sally Johnson, M.D., pointed out, “Some veterans do not cope well with the loss of the structure, social, and financial support available in the military environment.
“Attention to helping veterans establish psychosocial stability in the civilian environment can help reduce post-deployment adjustment problems including aggression.”