Veterans & Violence: Who’s at Risk?

Aggression is more common in soldiers with higher risk factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) How do American Heroes learn to manage their post-service aggression?  New research may lay the foundation for successful veteran integration and preventative lifestyle structures.

A recent study looked at the reasons why some war veterans are more prone to violence than others.

Results suggest that pre-war risk factors and post-war struggles may be the greatest predictor of later violence.

"Seek support for feelings of anger and frustration."

Eric B. Elbogen, PhD, Research Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Psychologist in the US Department of Veterans Affairs, led a team to research the predisposing and contributing factors that result in veteran violence.

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

For the study, the research team conducted a national survey on post-September 11, 2001 US military service members from July 2009 to April 2010. Data was collected from 1,388 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans from all 50 states and every military branch.

“Our study suggests the incidence of violence could be reduced by helping veterans develop and maintain protective factors in their lives back home,” according to Elbogen.

One-third of those surveyed reported committing an act of aggression towards another party in the last 12 months. While most claimed their acts were minor acts of aggression, 11 percent reported engaging in severe acts of violence.

Elbogen stated, “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.”

Greatest risk factors for violent behavior were: younger age, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and previous criminal arrests. On the bright side, there were things that seemed to help control those risk factors: stable living/housing situation, having a job, supportive social network, solid self direction and having their basic needs met.

Co-author, Dr. Sally Johnson, from the UNC Forensic Psychiatry Program, observed, “Some veterans do not cope well with the loss of 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.”

This study will be in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, June 2012. Funding provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 7, 2012