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Helga Luest (West), briefing host

Family Safety: A Significant Concern for Returning Veterans and Their Families
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, Cannon Caucus Room (CHOB 345)
October 24, 2008

Remarks submitted by Helga Luest (West), President and CEO, Witness Justice

Good morning and welcome to our briefing on family safety as a significant concern for returning veterans and their families.

I would like to thank our four collaborating bipartisan caucuses:

  • Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus
  • Mental Health Caucus
  • Veteran's Mental Health Caucus and
  • Victim's Rights Caucus

I would also like to thank our Congressional supporters:

  • Rep. Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee
  • Rep. Michaud (D-ME), Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health
  • As well as Rep. Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Hare (D-IL)

and the dozens of organizations and interest groups that have signed on to recognize and support this important issue facing veterans of the current conflicts.

The significant support around this briefing and your attendance here speaks to the reason why Witness Justice together with the Veterans' Initiative Center and Research Institute decided to host this briefing. Very seldom do we see interest groups including veteran service organizations; trauma, mental health and substance abuse service providers; and domestic violence and crime victim groups coming together to focus on a single issue. While our overarching goal of this briefing is to prevent family violence, we also hope that the discussion here today will help to facilitate a national response in the form of meaningful programs and services. All of our briefing collaborators, supporters and panelists recognize that need and are doing their own part to address it and respond proactively.

What we see and hear from veterans is that combat stress creates conditions like strong startle responses and trauma triggers that can be not only divisive with family members after return, but can lead to violent responses. High levels of adrenaline, the "barking of orders", and long and repeat separations for service abroad has lead to breakdowns in communication, disconnection, and even domestic violence. It's time that we recognize that veterans are affected by their experiences – the impact has a ripple effect spanning the entire family. Some of what we see with families from the outside looking in has much more to do with response to the conditions of war, rather than intentional actions.

When alcohol is used for some relief to the memories of war;
When a soldier can no longer enjoy his children tackling and tickling him because he's not able to be completely alert to his surroundings and is too anxious to enjoy it;
When the tapping on a veteran's shoulder results in being pinned to the wall...

These experiences are precisely what we need to respond to. And while everyone is responsible for their own actions, if we can take a step back and work on prevention through family education and support, then we can also avoid the punitive responses that can be destructive and traumatizing in their own right.

In getting to some of those possible preventive solutions, it is my pleasure to thank our panelists for being here to share their knowledge with you.

While brief biographies are included in your briefing packets, I would ask each of the panelists to share a few words about their backgrounds. Each of them brings unique personal and professional experiences to this very important issue.

At this time I would ask that if you have not already done so, please silence your cell phone. I would also like to note that there will be time after our panelists share their remarks for you to ask questions.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Thomas Berger.

Witness Justice, PO Box 2516, Rockville, MD 20847-2516, 301.846.9110, info@witnessjustice.org

Last Updated on November 15, 2011


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