Airmen returning from deployment are less likely to be involved in minor spousal abuse, but more violent incidents increase, according to a recent study. (Senior Airman Abigail Klein / Air Force)
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The first study to compare combat-related deployments and spousal abuse among Air Force couples found that abuse decreased after airmen returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That is contrary to what the authors of the study expected to find.
“The myth in the civilian community is that everybody who comes back from war is crazy,” said Lt. Col. Carol Copeland, chief of the Air Force Family Advocacy Program and one of the authors of “Psychology of Violence: Spouse Abuse and Combat-Related Deployments in Active Duty Air Force Couples.”
“There is no correlation,” Copeland said. “Some couples actually get more resilient after deployment and have an increased quality of life.”
That could have to do with the old adage about absence making the heart grow fonder. “One possibility is that separation could actually make them more appreciative of each other — and therefore less likely to abuse,” according to the study, produced in partnership with Family Advocacy and Northern Illinois University.
The authors analyzed more than 4,800 Air Force couples with at least one substantiated incident of physical or emotional abuse and at least one combat-related deployment over a seven-year period beginning in October 2001. Most cases involved an Air Force husband and civilian wife. The victims ranged ages 16 to 58.
On the whole, spouse abuse was about 12.6 percent lower post-deployment, according to the findings, first published in 2012. Rates of spouse abuse remained about the same regardless of whether an airman deployed once or multiple times, whether the deployments were brief or lengthy or if there were children in the home.
The bad news: The rate of serious cases of abuse actually went up after a return from deployment. So did alcohol-related incidents.
Air Force Family Advocacy ranks spouse maltreatment in one of three categories: mild, moderate or severe. Husbands who moderately or severely abused their wives and used alcohol were more likely to abuse their wives post-deployment, the study said. “The finding ... is particularly troubling given evidence of increases in problem drinking after deployments.”
Prior studies that examined domestic violence in other military branches or across the services had mixed findings, according to Psychology of Violence. Some concluded abuse went up; others found no association.
Another study recently completed by Air Force Family Advocacy analyzed child abuse before, during and after deployments, said Lt. Col. Wendy Travis, who oversees mental health division policy and program evaluation at the Air Force Medical Operations Agency. Nearly 2,900 maltreatment cases in the same seven-year time frame were looked at, she said.
“Overall, the rate of child maltreatment perpetrated decreased after deployments when compared to before and during,” Travis said. “Those rates were highest during a deployment.”
Neglect cases were largely responsible for child maltreatment; Air Force officials believe that could be due to greater stress and demand on the parent at home.
“We are at the beginning of a long journey toward understanding the effects of military deployment on families,” the study concluded. The authors wrote that they hope the results will trigger more research.