Combat Vets Most
Prone To Domestic Abuse
Looks at Homefront Effects
of War on Men, Society
By Randy Dotinga
-- Three decades after the Vietnam War, a new study concludes that male
veterans who spent time in combat were more than four times as likely
as other men to engage in domestic violence.
The Yale University researchers also found that combat vets were at much
higher risk for divorce, depression and unemployment.
findings are "striking," says study co-author Holly G. Prigerson,
an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale. "Being exposed to and witnessing
these horrible things puts you at a risk of a lot of bad outcomes for
a long time."
The researchers examined a 1990-1992 study of psychiatric disorders of
2,583 men who were then between the ages of 18 and 54. About 7 percent
-- 179 -- reported combat experience. The study was published in the
Archives of General Psychiatry in 1994.
The combat vets were 4.4 times more likely to have abused a spouse or partner
as other men, and were 6.4 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder, the researchers found. They were also two to three
times more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse,
unemployment and divorce or separation.
Using a mathematical formula, the researchers determined that if there
were no veterans in this country with combat experience, the number
of domestic violence cases would drop by an estimated 21 percent.
"This really dramatically illustrates the price that we pay for sending
people to war. It quantifies it," Prigerson says. "People know
that war is bad, but do they know that 21 percent of spousal abuse
could have been averted if men didn't go to war?"
One common assumption has been that post-traumatic stress disorder, not
combat itself, is the prime cause of adjustment problems after wartime
service. But the Yale study, which appears in the January issue of
the American Journal of Public Health, shows that veterans still had
problems, particularly with substance abuse and unemployment, even if
they weren't diagnosed with the disorder.
The research reinforces what experts already know about the challenges
facing combat vets, says Dr. Frank Schoenfeld, director of the
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic at the VA Medical Center in San
Whether or not they develop post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, combat
vets frequently suffer from a lower tolerance for frustration, explosive
outbursts and never-ending alertness, he says.
"There was some kind of intuitive understanding that people in combat tend
to be irritable in general, and have fewer restraints on their anger,"
he says. "This helps verify that."
Both Prigerson and Schoenfeld say it's important to understand how combat
affects a person's life in later years.
"If you send people off to war, it's going to have
repercussions," Schoenfeld says. "Even if people don't come
out diagnosed with a psychological disorder, they may come back with
changes that are detrimental to society."
What to Do: Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic
stress disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health or the
National Center for PTSD.
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