PRESS RELEASE: VETERANS FOR PEACE UK
The risk of violent offending and heavy drinking rises after joining the army, according to a report released today.
Dan joined the army in 2006, at 18, having grown up in an area of high unemployment. He was told that military discipline would keep him out of trouble. After training he deployed to Iraq, and when he came home he assaulted a warrant officer. He was sentenced to 18 months in military prison.
‘The army’s training changed me,’ Dan said, ‘it made me more aggressive as a person. I shouldn’t have attacked that warrant officer, but I believe I wouldn’t have if that training hadn’t changed me in the first place. After the conviction the army wouldn’t support me, my mental health deteriorated and I was left feeling isolated and alone. I resorted to alcohol abuse and became homeless for a year, and I have suffered with chronic PTSD. I really believe that underlying all my problems was the effect of the training I was put through when I joined the army.’
‘I hear stories like Dan’s all the time,’ said Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and the National Coordinator of VFP UK. ‘The report we are publishing today confirms that army training increases violent behaviour and heavy drinking even before recruits are sent to war, contradicting the common assumption that joining the army reduces antisocial behaviour.’ He went on, ‘We want to increase the public understanding of the impact military service, so that people can make better informed decisions.’
The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (70pp) draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, mainly from the UK and US, to explore the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training.
The training process has a forceful impact on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before soldiers are sent to war. The findings show that military training and culture combine with pre-existing issues (such as a childhood history of anti-social behaviour) to increase the risk of violence and alcohol misuse (details below). Traumatic war experiences further exacerbate the problem.
Research in the UK and US has found that:
Most military personnel and veterans are not habitually violent, but are more likely than civilians to behave violently in daily life.
They are also twice as likely to drink heavily, which is a risk factor for violent behaviour.
These problems are greater in the army than the navy or air force.
Army training reinforces several risk factors for violent behaviour, including antagonism, aggression, hostility to other groups, and traditionally masculine norms.
The prevalence of violent offending increases after joining the armed forces, and increases again after personnel return from war (reaching double the pre-enlistment rate, according to a British study).
Pre-military factors, such as a background of anti-social behaviour, combine with military factors, such as being trained for combat and experiencing traumatic events in war, to drive up the risk of violent behaviour.
Violence and heavy drinking by veterans are serious public health problems, says the report. A British study in 2012 found that 13% of British personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan admitted behaving violently in the weeks following their return. Applied to all personnel deployed to Afghanistan alone over the course of the war, this proportion is equivalent to 17,500 individuals.
Other consequences of army employment include elevated rates of mental health problems and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life, according to the report.
Veterans For Peace UK, is a voluntary, open and democratic ex-services organisation of men and women. Together we have fought in every war that Britain has fought since WW2. As a result of our collective experience we say that “War is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century”. Our fundamental purpose is to serve the cause of world peace.
Report author, David Gee, is a researcher with a critical interest in military recruitment practice, military employment, and the mental health of veterans. The report is a companion to The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces (2013).