VA takes steps to address traumatic relationships within the veteran community

This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 1, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

Veterans are two times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than the civilian population.

VA outpatient clinics in South Texas have been holding outreach events to educate veterans on the signs and consequences of intimate partner violence.

IPVAPlogoIn light of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, every Wednesday in October Dr. Jan Marie Capaccioli (Intimate Partner Violence/Domestic Violence Coordinator for the newly-formed IPVAP program by the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System) has been setting up a booth at clinics run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Administration. The VA Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program’s (IPVAP) initial outreach involves education and awareness.

“Basically I’m doing outreach, education and consultation,” Capaccioli said. “You don’t want anyone to be abused – so if someone is hurting or someone is suffering, they should be getting some help and we should be helping them. They’re the community.”

Intimate partner violence is defined as abuse that is between two people in a close relationship, and can occur between partners of all genders and identities. It includes physical violence, psychological aggression, sexual violence and stalking.

“It starts pretty mild, and then it can eventually get worse and worse over time,” Capaccioli said. “They’re ashamed that it’s happening to them, and they don’t reach out and talk to someone. I think it’s important to know that we’re here today and we’re not here to shame them, we’re here to give them assistance.”

The issue of intimate partner violence has been prevalent for ages, according to Capaccioli. The IPVAP plans to implement the Strength at Home program and more VA-sponsored events centered around the issue.

“Eventually we’re going to start serving veterans that use intimate partner violence against others,” Capaccioli said. “We’re changing the language – we don’t want to use the words ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’ or ‘batterer’ or ‘offender,’ we kind of want to reduce that stigma.”

For the IPVAP, getting rid of the stigma surrounded by abuse is one of the key factors in addressing it.

“The language we use is ‘veterans that use intimate partner against others,’ and ‘veterans who experience intimate partner violence,’” Capaccioli explained, defining the IPVAP’s use of person-first language, which is aimed to put the person’s value as a human being over their condition.

While they have not started traditional groups for veterans that use intimate partner violence at the local VAs just yet, Capaccioli spoke on the Strength at Home program that the VA plans to implement throughout the country.

“It’s a 12-week program, but you have to get trained on it,” Capaccioli said. “It’s evidenced based, it’s accepted because they have done studies and so forth. The VA wants to do more evidence-based treatments, but they also want to train everybody on exactly how to do it so it’s very consistent across the United States. Right now it’s fairly new.”

A press release from the VA noted that the purpose of holding these outreach events is to provide educational materials and answer questions from veterans in order to implement “a comprehensive person-centered, trauma-informed, recovery-oriented assistance program for veterans, their families, caregivers and VHA employees who use or experience intimate partner violence.”

Capaccioli noted that veterans particularly are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in some form due to the trauma they have experienced while serving.

“Usually with violence there’s some kind of underlying issue, mostly stress,” Capaccioli said. “When you leave the military, you want your life to go back to normal, and for some it’s not quite exactly normal, and they don’t realize the lasting effects of being deployed multiple times.”

The effects include a potential TBI (traumatic brain injury) they many have incurred while deployed, or just the trauma of their experience. In 2018, 174 Texas women were killed by a male intimate partner, and 32 Texas men were killed by a female intimate partner.

Capaccioli, who came into this program after working in veterans suicide prevention and justice outreach, said that intimate partner violence can have drastic results in the realm of suicidal ideation.

“Women who experience intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide, and men are twice as likely to complete suicide,” Capaccioli said. “You have to remember, women attempt suicide more often, but men complete suicide more. Men use greater methods – guns, usually – to commit suicide, while women typically use more passive methods, like pills or cutting themselves.”

She has set up at several other health fairs and clinics so far, and the VA hope to spread the message about intimate partner violence and what to look out for.

According to her, it is a public health issue that needs to be addressed.

“It’s actually considered a serious public health issue because it’s getting worse and worse,” Capaccioli said. “We provide counseling right now to veterans who experience intimate partner violence and veterans that use intimate partner violence against others. We don’t want to exclude either person, so they can get mental health counseling here at the clinic and get treated for whatever is going on.”

Capaccioli added that promoting counseling, creating awareness and education will work in a preventative capacity as well.

“It’s a public health crisis, but it’s a preventable public health crisis because you make that choice to be violent with someone,” Capaccioli said. “Granted, there are some circumstances around that, but it is a choice on how you choose to react to someone. Finding alternatives to violence when you’re stressed out is the goal.”

If a person is experiencing or using intimate partner violence, they are encouraged to seek their primary care physician for an initial consultation. The IPVAP wants veterans to be aware that services and counseling is available.

“If they’re honest and say they need help, we can get them going in the right direction at get them some kind of treatment,” Capaccioli said. “It’s hard to rebuild trust, and it’s hard to know if you’re going to get hurt again, which is why education is important too.”

Capaccioli has held outreach at the Harlingen, McAllen and Laredo VA clinics so far this month, and will be at the VA Outpatient Specialty Clinic in Corpus Christi next Wednesday, Oct. 28.

For more information about intimate partner violence, she can be reached at (956) 618-7100 ext. 67092, or via email at [email protected] Those experiencing intimate partner violence can also make confidential calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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