Domestic Violence in the Veteran Community: What Providers Should Know

Not all veteran families experience domestic or inter-partner violence (DV and IPV), but the trauma of war and military service can easily come home. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it’s an issue that is both pressing and timely with the recent attention to NFL players and family violence.

The reasons may be a complex set of circumstances—including mental and cognitive trauma, and economic factors after transitioning out of the military—which can create a recipe for veteran violence. But the exact nexus between the root cause and the violence is often hard to pinpoint since it may or may not be directly linked to military service-related trauma.

Most research on veteran violence generally focuses on the relationship between combat-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and IPV perpetration, most noting that veterans with PTSD have more family violence and instances of violence against a partner than veterans without.

But less discussed and similar among the NFL and veterans is brain injury, which is a signature wound of both war and football.  Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been shown to exhibit symptoms of impulsivity, aggressiveness, and violence. Often traumatic brain injury is masked under the umbrella of symptoms that the veteran may experience. Because the injury likely occurred from a traumatic event, TBI and PTSD symptoms may be one in the same. Also, the symptoms of dizziness, slurred speech, problems with memory, or other cognitive impairments are similar to alcohol or substance use symptoms.

While the cause of the violence is difficult to determine, one thing is for certain: there are many unique factors and types of violence among veteran families that behavioral health providers should know about.

To mark the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness month and spark a dialogue among providers and advocates on veteran domestic violence, Swords to Plowshares created a fact sheet “WHAT MAKES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AMONG VETERAN FAMILIES UNIQUE?” based on information from our focus group and roundtable research with both veteran families and veteran and domestic violence service providers.

Swords to Plowshares has been involved in the movement to address domestic violence among veteran families since before it was even acknowledged as a problem; with roundtable research, as well as a screening guide and training program for behavioral health providers to identify veteran families and route them to treatment when appropriate.

And again, let’s be clear: Military-related PTSD and TBI are specific and complex injuries requiring specialized care and treatment. While these injuries can greatly affect behavioral outcomes, it’s important not to classify or expect every veteran with PTSD or TBI to exhibit violent behavior.  Educate yourself, colleagues and loved ones about the issues, so you can be a resource for veteran families.

Megan Zottarelli, Policy Analyst

Feature image from 1480newsnow.com