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Military Culture Cited in Ft. Bragg Domestic Killings

Soldiers are often reluctant to get help with marital problems, Army investigators say.

November 08, 2002|From Associated Press

FT. BRAGG, N.C. — Five killings last summer involving couples at Ft. Bragg probably were caused by existing marital problems and the stress of separation while soldiers are away on duty, Army investigators said Thursday.

But the report also said military culture discourages soldiers and their families from seeking help when domestic problems can potentially be resolved.

Col. Dave Orman, a psychiatrist who led the 19-member team of investigators, said earlier intervention could prevent tragedies. To do that, Orman said, mental health specialists must be in combat battalions, as chaplains are now.

"We're not doing what we need to be doing yet," he said. "There was a prevalent attitude that seeking behavioral health care was not career-safe."

The team, including mental and physical health workers and military clergy, visited the base in August and September.

The team also said the anti-malaria drug Lariam, given to troops sent overseas, was unlikely to have been at fault. Side effects of the drug, also known as mefloquine, have been known to include psychotic episodes.

Authorities say four Ft. Bragg soldiers killed their wives in June and July. Two of the men committed suicide and the other two are charged with murder. Three of those cases involved special operations soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.

In a fifth case, a woman is charged with killing her husband, a Special Forces major.

The report recommended that the Defense Department study how increased military operations affect family stress. It also said distrust of military family care and mental health programs "may contribute in rare cases to tragedy." It said focus groups showed that marital discord wasn't unusual.

Investigators interviewed military leaders, doctors, leaders of family support groups, military and civilian law enforcement, and civilian public health officials. They also conducted focus groups with soldiers, spouses and others on the post.

The report found family support groups were inconsistent in the help they provided, and the Army's program for soldiers returning from deployment also varied from unit to unit.

Work already is being done to make sure each unit forms a family support group when the unit deploys for training in the United States or overseas, said Col. Tad Davis, garrison commander at Ft. Bragg.

Soldiers from Ft. Bragg, headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, have figured prominently in ground operations in Afghanistan.

About 45,000 soldiers are stationed at Ft. Bragg and about 5,000 families live on the base. An additional 21,000 military families live in nearby communities.

Local police have said the couples involved in each of the slayings had a history of marital problems.

After the slayings, the military announced that soldiers will be screened for psychological problems before they leave Afghanistan.

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