Study: Support, financial stability help veterans avoid violence

Veterans who feel a sense of control over their lives —  who have a stable place to live, enough money to cover their basic needs — are less likely to act aggressively toward others, a new study shows.

Having a sense of social support and the resources to care for themselves were safeguards that helped veterans avoid violence, said lead researcher Eric B. Elbogen.

“Our study suggests the incidence of violence could be reduced by helping veterans develop and maintain protective factors in their lives back home,” he said in a statement.

Researchers surveyed 1,388 veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era and theaters after Sept. 11, 2001, asking about their lives and whether they had acted violently toward anyone in the previous year.

Eric Elbogen, Sally Johnson | UNC

Being younger, having a criminal arrest record and misusing alcohol put veterans at risk, as well as combat exposure and symptoms of probable post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But veterans who didn’t have enough money to cover their basic needs were more likely to report aggressive behavior than veterans with PTSD, the study found.

“When you hear about veterans committing acts of violence, many people assume that post-traumatic stress disorder or combat exposure are to blame,” Elbogen said. “But our study shows that is not necessarily true.”

Elbogen is research director of the Forensic Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is also a psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sally Johnson, co-author and a professor in the UNC Forensic Psychiatry Program, pointed out, “Some veterans do not cope well with the loss of the structure, social, and financial support available in the military environment.“

So helping them to adapt to civilian life can help reduce post-deployment problems, including aggression, she said.

Key factors that appear to reduce the risk of violence include employment, living stability, an ability to meet basic needs and care for oneself, along with social support, spiritual faith and resilience.

Veterans with those factors in place were 92 percent less likely to report severe violence than veterans who did not, the study found.

One-third of the surveyed veterans said they had committed an aggressive act, but most involved relatively minor aggressive behavior, the researchers said.

Eleven percent of the veterans reported more severe violence.

Elbogen noted, “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.”

The findings are published in the June 25  Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The survey was conducted between July 2009 and April 2010, and included veterans from all branches of the U.S. military and all 50 states.

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