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Violent Veterans, the Big Picture

Iraq War veterans seem to be killing and hurting themselves and others more than the veterans of any other war in American history.


Only two weeks ago, the New York Times reported nine murders and a rising number of rapes and other violent crimes against women committed by Iraq war veterans at Fort Carson, Colorado. One veteran beat his girlfriend to death. Another raped and murdered a mentally challenged teenage girl.


Some say this rise in veteran violence only reflects the better reporting of crimes and is not a rise at all, but the statistics are too startling for that to be true. Suicide rates are the highest they have ever been in the Army. The number of attempted suicides and self-inflicted injuries among soldiers has jumped six-fold since the Iraq war began and is continuing to rise. The rates of sexual violence against women inside the military are the highest ever seen. Domestic violence among veterans has reached historic frequency. And post-traumatic stress disorder rates appear to be higher among Iraq War veterans than among those who have served in Afghanistan or even, many believe, in Vietnam. One of the symptoms of P.T.S.D. is uncontrollable violence.


Psychologists usually blame the violence committed by Iraq War veterans on the stress of multiple deployments, the loss of close friends and comrades to bombs and bullets, and the military tendency to punish rather than treat G.I.s who break down at war.


These factors certainly all contribute, but the reasons for veteran violence and suicide lie much deeper than these. They begin in the family backgrounds of the troops, and are exacerbated by the nature of military training, the misogyny in military culture, the type of war we are waging in Iraq, and the remorse, fury and self-loathing that comes from fighting a war one doesn't believe in. None of these factors tend to be much discussed in the press, but they add up to a recipe for veteran violence:


Take the fact that half of all Army soldiers and Marine recruits report having been physically abused as children, while half of the women and about one-sixth of the men report say they were sexually abused, according to two significant veteran studies published in 1996 and 2005 respectively. A lot of people are joining the military to escape violent homes; some bring that violence with them. Most people inside the military know this. Most outsiders don't.

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This essay appeared in the the Huffington Post.

Additional essays by Helen Benedict can be found at featurewell.com When you reach the site, just type "Helen Benedict" in the Advanced Search window. All essays are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.