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Fort Bragg Report Urges Change in Military Culture

A 19-member team sent to investigate the four Fort Bragg murders last summer announced yesterday that marital problems and the military culture, such as work-related stress and a stigma against psychological counseling all played a role in the killings. Dispelling earlier speculation that the anti-malaria medication, mefloquine, might have spurred the violence, the 41-page report points to inadequate family support services and inconsistent soldier re-acclimation programs as contributing factors. Principal investigator psychiatrist Col. Dave Orman stressed, “In none of these cases was behavior health treatment sought prior to these tragediesÉ There was a prevalent attitude that seeking behavioral health care was not career safe,” reported the Charlotte Observer and the Associated Press. Investigators recommend creating and developing a supportive environment, providing greater access to help, and assuring soldiers their careers will not suffer for seeking treatment. Still, Fort Bragg Commander Col. Tad Davis admits, “There’s an education process that needs to unfoldÉ” according to the Charlotte Observer.

In the military, the rate of domestic violence incidents rose from 18.6 to 25.6 per 1,000 military personnel between 1990 and 1996. Since then, the rate has decreased to 16.5 per 1,000 in 2001, but still remains much higher than in the civilian population, which has 3.1 incidents of domestic violence per 1,000 people, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Though numbers are not available for the past 10 months, the downward trend may be reversing, according to Christine Hansen, executive director of the Miles Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides services to domestic abuse victims in the military community. “We have seen through our clients alone an increase in the number of domestic violence incidents since mid-October as well as an increase in the severity of abuse,” she told the Journal-Constitution.

An article appearing today in the Washington Post reiterates the link between the military and domestic violence. Sniper suspect John Muhammad’s ex-wife Mildred told the Post that serving in the Persian Gulf War made her husband “a very angry man.” Upon his return, the abuse began ultimately leading to death threats. “You have become my enemy, and as my enemy, I will kill you,” he told her.

Last month, US Congress approved Senate Amendment 4447, sponsored by Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), including $10 million to fund domestic violence programs on military installations in the final version of the Defense Appropriations Bill. The bill, H.R. 5010, became Public Law No. 107-248 on October 23, 2002.

Meanwhile, Fort Bragg has implemented a mandatory spouse separation time of 48 to 72 hours after violence has been reported. Army officials are also working with civilian social service groups and local law enforcement to share data on domestic violence incidents.

Sources:

Associated Press 11/8/02; Reuters 11/7/02; Charlotte Observer 11/8/02; CNN 10/31/02; Washington Post 11/8/02