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Bragg killings probe

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Troubled soldiers keep quiet Fort Bragg killings probe cites stigma
By Dave Moniz

WASHINGTON -- The Army has concluded that many troubled soldiers shun counseling out of fear that seeking help would be seen as a sign of instability and hurt their military careers. The findings follow an investigation launched after four soldiers killed their wives this summer at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The probe sought to determine whether there were medical, behavioral, social or physical factors linking the killings. The Army found no common link except that the soldiers were all in troubled marriages, according to Army sources who have seen a draft of the report, which is being reviewed and is expected to be released in the next few weeks.

Despite a steady decline in spousal abuse in the Army, the killings raised troubling questions about the stresses on soldiers overseas and even brought allegations that an anti-malaria drug might be linked to the incidents.

Three of the four soldiers were Green Berets who had been to Afghanistan to fight in the war on terrorism. At least one had sought and received marriage counseling.

The report found no connection to the drug Lariam, routinely given to soldiers headed overseas, the Army sources say. The drug has come under fire from groups that allege it causes anxiety. Two of the four had taken anti-malaria pills; neither reported adverse effects.

Army officials concluded that the cluster of four cases in two months did not indicate increased violence in the Army.

Jim Martin, a retired Army colonel who is an authority on military family life, said it is not surprising that soldiers do not seek professional help for personal problems.

''The reality in our society is . . . that using those kinds of services has a stigma attached to it. It's all the more prevalent as a stigma within organizations like the military, and probably even more with people associated with elite groups within the military,'' he says.

The Army has several programs to help soldiers and families cope with the stress of overseas missions, including counseling before and after soldiers go abroad.

Army research shows that spouse-abuse cases have declined steadily in recent years, from 7,930 substantiated cases in 1995 to 3,948 in 2001. The active-duty Army has 480,000 soldiers.

An Army study in 1994 concluded that spouse abuse resulting in severe physical violence was three times as high among soldiers as among civilians. But Defense Department officials cite a substantial drop in military cases since programs to curb spouse abuse were implemented in the mid-1990s.

The report on the Fort Bragg killings concludes that the Army needs to do a better job of identifying soldiers in trouble and linking them with programs to deal with stress and family violence.

Since the Fort Bragg killings, the Army has taken steps to address shortcomings. A new rule requires that a soldier returning early from Afghanistan to deal with a family crisis must be met by a counselor at the airport.

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