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Study: Several Factors Related to Violence in US Veterans

Update Date: Jun 25, 2012 03:00 PM EDT

A national survey suggests employment, meeting basic needs, and living stability, are important factors in reducing the risk of violence among veterans. Social support, spiritual faith, ability to care for oneself, perceived self-determination, and the ability to adapt to stress are also important factors. 

The findings, reported in a June 25, 2012 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, revealed that veterans with these factors in place were 92 percent less likely to report severe violence compared veterans who did not relate to these factors. The survey also found that veterans who did not have enough money to cover basic needs were more likely to report aggressive behavior than veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Over 1,300 veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era after Sept. 11, 2001 were surveyed between July 2009 and April 2010. The sample included veterans from all branches of the U.S. military and all 50 states.

The National Institute of Mental Health-funded study was led by Eric B. Elbogen, research director of the Forensic Psychiatry Program in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Psychologist in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"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."

Of all surveyed, 33 percent of the 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.

"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.

The survey also revealed that other factors, such as alcohol misuse, criminal background, as well as veterans' living, work, social, and financial circumstances are just as important to understanding violence in veterans.

"Some veterans do not cope well with the loss of the structure, social, and financial support available in the military environment," Dr. Sally Johnson, co-author and Professor in the UNC Forensic Psychiatry Program, said. "Attention to helping veterans establishes psychosocial stability in the civilian environment can help reduce post-deployment adjustment problems including aggression."

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