Wednesday

December 11th, 2019

National

Sarah Palin's son, and the link between combat duty and veteran violence

Philip Bump

By Philip Bump

Published Jan. 21, 2016

Track Palin, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's son, missed most of his mother's 2008 campaign. He had been serving in Iraq for about a year when she was nominated as John McCain's running mate, and by the time Election Day rolled around, he was an air guard in the "Arctic Wolves," the Army's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Two years later, he was discharged.

Shortly after Sarah Palin left Alaska on Monday to endorse Donald Trump's candidacy in Iowa, Track was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Jordan Loewe, in the Palin family home. According to the police report, Track struck Loewe and threatened her with a firearm.

During a speech in Oklahoma on Wednesday, Palin drew a line from the first paragraph above to the second.

"When I talk about a commander-in-chief who will never leave our men and our women behind," she said as she began talking about her son, "let me get a little bit personal on this. Our wounded warriors who come home from the battlefield bringing new battles with them. Our wounded warriors, sometimes in body and in mind, coming back different than when they left for the war zone."

"I can talk personally about this," she continued, calling Track's arrest the "elephant in the room." "My son, like so many others - they come back a bit different. They come back hardened."

In 2014, The Washington Post explored the story of Staff Sgt. Robert D. Carlson, also of Alaska. After an altercation with his wife, Carlson was arrested, prompting a similar examination of the link between his service and his behavior as a veteran. "Six years later, Carlson said he felt a lingering sense of guilt and responsibility for his friend's death," the paper's Greg Jaffe wrote. "Back from Afghanistan, he struggled with drinking, fits of anger and feelings of anxiety that had led him to start carrying his gun with him on routine errands in town. He told the psychiatrist that [on a night that he had fired his gun in his residence] he 'hoped the police would kill him.' "

The link between combat and civilian violence isn't only anecdotal. Research has found a link between the after-effects of combat service and increased violence. At the Department of Veterans Affairs website, experts explore the available data. A study comparing post-9/11 veterans with the general public found that rates of violence among members of the general public that experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were at about 7.5 percent. Among veterans, the rates ranged from 8.6 to 19.5 percent.

Palin didn't specifically say that Track has PTSD, but even among veterans who don't have PTSD, rates of violence were higher. In the general public, the rate was 3 percent; among veterans, it was 6.4 percent.

Another study from the mid-1980s looked at violence rates among veterans of the Vietnam War. Among those veterans, one-third of those who suffered from PTSD exhibited "intimate partner violence" - a.k.a. domestic violence - versus 13.5 percent among those who didn't have PTSD. The authors also note some important corollaries. Those with anxiety or depression exhibit violent behavior at similar rates, for example - and rates of violence among young men, which most post-9/11 veterans are, are higher in the general public as well.

Last year, the American Psychological Association published a study looking at the intensification of anger among veterans with combat-related PTSD and depression. It hoped to build on a previous 2010 study in which the researchers found that "among [Operation Iraqi Freedom] veterans not seeking treatment, approximately 40% reported 'getting angry with someone and kicking, smashing, or punching something' at least once in the past month when assessed at three and 12 months post-deployment." They found that "self-rated harm-others risk was significantly higher" among those with a combination of PTSD and depression than among those that only suffered from PTSD.

The Naval Health Research Center looked at the relationship between combat and post-service antisocial behavior. "Of 12 demographic and psychosocial factors that were examined in relation to antisocial behavior in a multivariate model," the study's authors write, "five factors were positively and significantly related to antisocial behavior: PTSD symptoms, deployment-related stressors, combat exposure, younger age, and being divorced. Of all the variables studied, PTSD had the strongest association with antisocial behavior."

It's important to note that Track Palin likely had several other of those factors. He was divorced in 2012. He is still in his 20s. He served on active duty. The data suggest that, even without PTSD, his experiences and circumstances might lead him to antisocial or violent behavior. (Track was also involved in a notorious 2014 brawl involving several members of the family.)

We can't and shouldn't try and evaluate Track Palin's mental state as amateurs from thousands of miles away, of course. The idea that a veteran could be prone to violence after his service, though, is hardly a stretch.



"[W]hen my own son is going through what he goes through coming back," she said, "I can certainly relate with other families who kind of feel these ramifications of some PTSD and some, some of the woundedness that our soldiers do return with."

It was a Trump campaign rally at which Palin was speaking, of course, so the argument was also laced with politics. She suggested that the frustration of veterans like Track extended to there being little respect shown to their service, "start[ing] from the top." Palin's endorsement of Trump surprised some, given Trump's comments about McCain's time as a prisoner of war (Trump said McCain isn't a war hero and that he liked people "that weren't captured"). But she argued that Trump would do a better job for veterans as president.

For their sake, she said, it was important to have a president that "will respect them and honor them."

"It makes me realize, more than ever: It is now or never."

Previously:

01/18/16: The dark undercurrent for Hillary Clinton in Sunday's Dem debate

11/23/15: Just so you know: The government already has a list of Muslims in the U.S.

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