Study Finds Combat Veterans With PTSD, Anger Issues More Likely To Commit Crimes

The new study draws a direct correlation between PTSD, anger, and criminal condu

Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who struggle with the anger and emotional outbursts of combat trauma are more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested for criminal misbehavior, new research has confirmed. The new study, published Oct. 1 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, for the first time draws a direct correlation between combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the anger it can cause and criminal misbehavior.

The study of 1,388 combat veterans was completed by a group of researchers led by forensic psychologist Eric B. Elbogen of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. The researchers found that about 23 percent of those with PTSD and high irritability had been arrested for a criminal offense. Among all of the combat veterans studied, including those with and without combat trauma, 9 percent had been arrested since their combat deployment.
 
These research findings, which echo previous studies of combat veterans, underscore an increasing and critical problem. Torrents of returning combat veterans need mental health services, but the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) -- despite increased budgets and staff -- hasn't been able to meet the demand. The new research also demonstrates the need to expand local veterans courts across the country, which guide veterans into treatment rather than simply into jail.
 
Most combat veterans, of course, are not afflicted with PTSD and most do not end up in prison. But many do. Previous research has shown that half of all Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD had been arrested one or more times.
 
The VA has sought to intervene by expanding its number of mental health therapists and services. But tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans still have difficulty getting help, and more have never been diagnosed or sought treatment.
 
A related study by Elbogen and his associates, published earlier this year, found that acts of violence by veterans were more likely to occur if the veteran was homeless, unemployed or under-employed, and had little or no social support such as a functional family. Having a stable living situation and having control over one's life significantly reduced the odds of severe violence, the study concluded.
 
Veterans "who perceive that they have control over their future and who have greater psychological resilience" are better able to refrain from violence, the study said. "Some of the protective factors (living stability, employment, social support, self-direction, basic needs met) are present when service members live on a military base," the study noted, "but are not necessarily present when service members return home."

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