[White] The War at Home

After my uncle's first deployment, he was a different person. His temper was short, and he berated my aunt about the changes she made in his absence. He wanted her to stop working and stay at home. When I came to visit, we weren't allowed in the house if he was there. All of his actions were a part of his attempt to regain control. My aunt never called the on-base military police for help during domestic disturbances. If he was arrested and convicted, my uncle would be dishonorably discharged.

When soldiers return from war, they usually receive a well-deserved homecoming. Spouses and children are overjoyed to see the person they love return. But often, these soldiers have changed. And they take out their hurt and anger on the families they left behind.

In the span of six weeks in 2002, four soldiers murdered their wives at the Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina. Three of the soldiers had just returned from deployments in Afghanistan. These killings showed the increasing trend of domestic violence in the military.

Since the "War on Terror" began in 2001, American citizens have dissected its economic costs and political consequences. But the most troubling result has been the rise in domestic abuse for military families. For soldiers' spouses, the obstacles are relatively high. But outsiders view their role as a simple one—keep your husband or wife happy. The families of soldiers are the real heroes; they withstand difficulties to support those they love.

The psyche of a soldier returning from war is fragile. Everything is different—the house, the children, even the dog. Silence can be stifling; noise can be irritating. While deployed, they have no control over their lives. When soldiers return, they have to turn off the killing mentality required to survive on the battlefield. Some soldiers can't adjust.

Starting in 2001, the military has seen an increase in domestic-abuse cases. Its statistics for domestic violence only include reported cases among married couples. Cases involving boyfriends and girlfriends, former spouses or fiancées are not reported as "domestic" violence.

But the biggest problem in reporting cases is the spouses' fear. The soldier's confidentiality is not guaranteed with counseling in domestic-violence cases. He or she could face a dishonorable discharge, after which he or she would not receive any of the before-promised benefits.

Part of the problem is the public's attitude toward military families. We too often see them as the link to hold our army together. If a soldier's mind is occupied with thoughts of his marital problems, he will be less effective on the field of war. Distractions make our troops a liability. This attitude shows a lack of empathy for their struggle.

Studies show that the more frequently a soldier is deployed, the more likely domestic abuse in the home will occur. Like so many troops returning home, my uncle was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, another common factor in domestic-violence cases. The trauma of war plays a part in domestic violence at home. The violent and traumatic experiences soldiers experience during war prevent them from integrating back into everyday life.

It is as if the government has a new "don't ask; don't tell" policy that focuses on domestic abuse. Seeking help isn't always encouraged. A couple that attends marriage counseling through the military's resources has no confidentiality; the incident is reported to the soldier's commander. If a soldier has a record of seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, he's barred from certain missions. It can be a career breaker.

The domestic violence that occurred between my aunt and uncle can't be easily explained. She wishes more resources were available for help. He says seeking help would result in punishment. But they agree that the pressure of the war increased the rift between them.

In 1998, "60 Minutes" aired a program on domestic violence in the military. The result was a public outcry that prompted Congress to demand action from the military. The Pentagon responded with a pledge to provide resources for victims, but halted the short-lived programs after the Afghanistan war began in 2001.

The military formed the Defense Task Force On Domestic Violence, which was assigned to investigate cases from 2001-2003. The task force made suggestions for improvement and studied the effects of domestic violence. But the resources available now don't have adequate support. The family programs handle an overload of cases with a strained budget. And the staff for family-advocacy programs is under-trained. The military has promised an increased budget for handling domestic-violence in its ranks, and it's time for them to pay up.

I once considered a career in the military. My paperwork was together, and I planned to accept a military scholarship for college. But after talking with returning soldiers, I backed out. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't enlist. The pressure of a military life may have been too much for me. So many areas need to be re-examined and improved. Domestic violence is one of them.

Before we continue to deploy troops overseas, we should examine our domestic problems. It's time for America to pull back from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and focus on the war at home.

Editorial intern Brianna White is an avid sports fan who loves Harry Potter and Mandarin Chinese. Everyone thinks she would make a great doctor, which means she'll become a writer.

Previous Comments


Ms White, Thank you for such a loving and informative memoir. I am of a different generation; however my father and uncles served in WW2 and Korea and they all exhibited the symptoms you cite in your article. Granted the degree of erratic behavior each brother displayed spanned a wide range, yet the symptoms were universally present. Funny how history keeps repeating itself when it comes to our wealthy nation's treatment of its veterans, and most recently its' grudging assistance to the "first responders" after 911. Good job



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