War veterans face a host of challenges when they return from combat. Just trying to reacclimate to the civilian world can be hard enough. Add to that an insecure economic environment and physical disabilities, and it can be even more difficult. For veterans with posttraumatic stress (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), issues such as emotional instability and impulsivity can make reentry into the community an extremely arduous task. Despite the best efforts of the Veterans Administration, many veterans wind up in legal trouble after their return from war. In fact, statistics suggest that nearly 10% of war veterans have some sort of criminal history.
Eric B. Elbogen of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina wanted to determine if our most recent veterans—those returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan—also were at increased risk for criminal activity. In a recent study, Elbogen evaluated data from more than 1,300 recent war veterans and measured levels of criminal involvement, family history, substance use, anger, and aggression. He also looked at gender, age, and presence of PTSD or TBI. He discovered that almost 10% of the veterans sampled had been arrested at least once after they came home. Although many of the violations were not related to violent behavior, those that were involved veterans with PTSD. The younger male veterans were more likely to be arrested than female or older veterans. Also, those with a criminal history, drug or alcohol use, and high levels of anger resulting from PTSD were at increased risk for arrest. Elbogen found no link between TBI and arrest, even if the veterans with TBI had high levels of aggressive behavior.
The results of this study have important clinical implications. “The findings underscore the need for clinicians to recognize that many veterans seeking treatment, particularly those with PTSD, anger, and irritability, are at higher risk for arrest,” Elbogen said. Also, veterans who have a history of family violence, drug and alcohol misuse, or other contributing factors should be targeted for interventions that could help them avoid future problems with the legal system.
Elbogen, E. B., Johnson, S. C., Newton, V. M., Straits-Troster, K., Vasterling, J. J., Wagner, H. R., Beckham, J. C. (2012). Criminal justice involvement, trauma, and negative affect in Iraq and Afghanistan war era veterans. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029967
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