Domestic Violence – Spouses Who Bring the War Home

by landon / 07 June 2014 / No Comments


With thousands of troops preparing to return home, a new crisis may open on the domestic front. Military wife Stacy Bannerman writes about the husbands she has seen transformed into domestic abusers.

“If you don’t hear from me in the next 24 hours, call the police,” she whispered, then hung up. My phone read 2:12 am; it was the third call in as many minutes. I tried calling back—no answer. I went back to sleep, angry at Kristi for calling in the middle of the night and scaring me with a single sentence.

The next morning I fired off an email: “I cannot, for the love of God, imagine what you were thinking when you called last night. Please tell me.” Kristi and I had become battle buddies at home while our husbands were serving in Iraq in 2004-05. We had cried each time a military family member called with word of a soldier’s death or suicide; we grieved at funerals and gravesites, marches and memorials. We wept with and for each another when she or I learned that our husband had been mobilized for another deployment, and again when they finally came home.

Her husband had served three combat tours since 2002. The last one was the shortest yet, a mere 10 months, and Kristi wrote in an email that “he actually came back pretty normal this time!” That was nearly four months ago. When my phone rang in the afternoon early last fall, I saw that it was her, and picked up.

“Mark tried to strangle me last night,” she blurted out. “I called you from the bathroom. I locked myself in with the pets. I didn’t want him to hurt my puppy. I’m sorry I called. I was just so scared, and I didn’t have anyone else to call. I couldn’t call the cops.”

I had gotten other midnight calls from other military wives, cowering in closets and under dining room tables, dialing for a lifeline to someone outside of their domestic war zone. But this was my friend: strong and smart, she had worked at a women’s shelter nearly a decade ago. She knew all the warning signs.

And Kristi’s husband adored her. He had no history of domestic violence, no pattern of abuse. He had made no attempts to isolate her from friends, family, or finances. Mark’s most recent post-deployment mental health assessment hadn’t indicated any issues. There hadn’t been a single red flag before Mark wrapped his hands around Kristi’s throat and squeezed, which is what makes veterans’ household violence unique.

Abuse by combat veterans tends to have its own distinctive pattern that is unlike the recurring power-and-control cycle of abuse described in most domestic violence literature. The journal Disabled American Veterans stated that veteran interpersonal violence often involves “only one or two extremely violent and frightening abusive episodes that quickly precipitate treatment seeking.”

“Mark tried to strangle me last night,” my friend blurted out.

The majority of studies of treatment-seeking veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat-related mental health issues report that at least 50 percent of those veterans commit wife-battering and family violence. Male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence, according to the VA, which also found that the majority of veterans with combat stress commit at least one act of spousal abuse in their first year post-deployment.

“How are you now?” I asked Kristi. “Where is he?”

“I’m okay, but my throat hurts a little. He’s gone. I made him leave this morning. I told him I didn’t want to hear from him until he had talked to a counselor or gotten into some kind of treatment. I said that I didn’t feel safe with him, and I couldn’t…I wasn’t…” she sobbed, hiccupping out words, “I wasn’t sure if I ever would again… Goddamn it. Goddamn this war.”

Kristi and I talked a lot over the next days and weeks—mostly she talked, and I listened. She was seeing a civilian counselor, but spent most of her time at home, shell-shocked and alone. She said her counselor just kept telling her to leave her husband, giving her lectures on the typical cycle of domestic abuse, so she tried to find someone who understood the military and veterans.

She called the military chaplain on post, but he never called back. She called the VA, and asked if they had support programs for wives of combat veterans. They didn’t. She called Military One Source, a free counseling assistance program provided by the Department of Defense. But the lady there just started to cry, and told her that she got “these calls all the time. I can’t help you. Unless you authorize a report, I can’t authorize assistance.”

Originally Published September 25, 2010 by Stacy Bannerman on the Daily Beast

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