Veterans said they are seeing a positive impact in their relationships thanks to a new program being implemented at the Maryland VA Health System in Baltimore.
Counselors there said, in general, veterans are seeing higher rates of verbal or physical abuse in their relationships. Up to a third of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers deal with Intimate Partner Violence, according to a major study of Vietnam veterans.
Strength at Home is working to change that.
"The military teaches them to respond quickly and without a lot of forethought to a threatening circumstance," said program director Jim Haskell. He says someone who has been trained for combat may process a routine argument as a life threatening situation, causing problems at home.
"They have a short fuse," Haskell said. "So often time they will hold in their emotions. In the context of a relationship, they will not express how they feel for fear that they might blow up."
In Strength at Home counseling sessions, veterans learn to open up by talking with each other about their feelings, something that's not always easy.
"As one veteran opens up, then others begin to feel more comfortable doing that," Haskell said. "They're really able to look at themselves and begin to understand where they're at."
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Aaron, a US Army veteran who did not want to provide his last name, says his relationship with his wife was out of control before Strength at Home.
"I wasn't physically abuse with her, thank God, but we were both the arguing type," Aaron said. "She had already told me that if things didn't change, we weren't going to be together."
The Venezuela native, who joined the Army only days after the September 11th attacks, left the army after being wounded in Afghanistan. At home, he was closing himself off so much that his daughter barely recognized him. On his wife's suggestion, he tried Strength at Home.
"It's very scary not being in control," Aaron said.
In addition to deep conversations during therapy sessions, participants get homework to take home to their partners. They're taught to take "time outs," record their aggressive reactions and talk to partners about angry feelings before they become a problem. Haskell says in almost all cases, domestic abuse begins with an argument.
Now that he has finished his treatment, Aaron says he knows there has been progress. He can see it on his daughter's face. "She says 'Papi, papi!' all the time. When I'm not there she's calling me," he said waiving a hand, "It wasn't like that before."
Aaron admits there is still work to be done, but now he's on the road to recovery. He's thankful for his Strength at Home therapy, but even more thankful for his wife. "She has been very brave," Aaron said. "I'm so confident of her love for me and for us, our family. To me, she's my hero."
If you, or a loved one, is interested in the Strength at Home program, contact VA Maryland Health in Baltimore for more information.
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