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Army Leader Helps DoD Tackle Domestic Violence

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2000 – Maj. Gen. Craig B. Whelden no longer heads the Army's Community and Family Support Center, but he's as busy as ever working to support military families.

After spending two years commanding the support center, Whelden now serves as deputy commander of U.S. Army Pacific in Hawaii. The command has responsibility for all Army forces in the Pacific from Alaska to Japan.

And as if that isn't enough travel for the general, Whelden also serves on the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence here. He is one of 12 senior military leaders and DoD civilians working side by side with 12 civilian law enforcement and domestic violence experts to improve the military's response to domestic violence.

During the panel's mid-September site visits to Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, N.C., Whelden talked about domestic violence.

"Over the past few years, I saw an increase in emphasis but not a corresponding increase in resourcing and funding," he said. Even so, the general noted rates of substantiated abuse in the Army have decreased in the last four years.

"Transitional compensation payouts have gone up," Whelden noted. "To me that means we're getting the word out and that abused spouses are coming forward and reporting more than they previously were, and we're helping them with the transitional compensation."

In his old job, Whelden used to tell battalion and brigade commanders that the rate of substantiated spouse abuse is about one in every 1,000 married couples.

"That means that on average every battalion commander has about 10 in his battalion," he said. "Unsubstantiated cases are a higher number than that, and those that never get reported are a higher number than that. The bottom line is that every unit in the Army, and in the military, no doubt, has some level of spouse abuse, so it's important for commanders to understand what programs are there."

Whelden said he worries that most domestic violence victims are unaware of the help available to them. "Control is a major issue in many of abuse cases. The soldier-abuser clearly doesn't want the spouse to know what's available, so he keeps her insulated from the Army," he said.

"I always stress to the folks who offer services to family members that those who need them most are always the hardest to get to," Whelden said. "It's the 19-year-old spouse in a trailer park 10 miles off post who may never have set foot on post because she doesn't have transportation, and her husband doesn't want her to see what's available."

Installations have different forms of outreach programs, he said. Some are more robust than others. "Again, that's tied to resourcing, and the more resourcing we have the more capability we have," he said.

Fort Carson, Colo., for example, sends a van into the local community to distribute information about all the Army Community Service programs. When a soldier comes in, the unit finds out if they're married and where they live. If off post, the van goes out to visit.

"They've got a great program, but it's only as good as they're able to resource it," Whelden said. "Everybody would like to have a more robust outreach program."

While the Army already has a good family advocacy program, the general noted that there is a need to improve community collaboration. At some posts, he said, a large percentage of military personnel live off post.

"If an incident happens on post, the commander will know about it the next morning because it comes on the MP blotter," Whelden said. "If it happens off post, it's anyone's guess as to whether we'll know about it."

If civil authorities report domestic violence involving a service member to military authorities, he said, "then we can act." In some cases, the failure to share information "tragically ended in death," he said.

"When you 'peel the onion back,' to find out what led to this," he said, "you find that had we known about the problems ahead of time we could have intervened and done something. The problem was, we just didn't know about it."

The general said he thinks the task force is going to identify gaps such as this and others in the military's response.

"My guess is that this task force will recommend increased resourcing," Whelden said. "It will recommend some requirements for commanders to enter into collaborative agreements with civil authorities. That is not the requirement in all services right now.

"It's going to identify the changing demographics we've had in our military whereby we have a lot of partner violence. And by law, we can't provide services to partners who are not ID card holders."

Overall, Whelden said, commanders do not get enough education on domestic violence. "I reflect back to my own times when I was a company commander 20 years ago and we didn't have a process then.

"As I have grown up through the Army, I've seen how the company commander is really the first line of defense," he said. "Typically, they're the first to find out about the problems within their units. So first response is always important. Too often when you find a tragic case, you find out the first response was not adequate. And that's why it led to severe domestic violence or homicide."

Unfortunately, he added, company commanders have too many things in their kit bag already. "We ask that company commander and that first sergeant to do an awful lot of things. This is just one more thing we ask them to do. Could we do more? Certainly we could, but there's only 24 hours in the day and there's only one commander and one first sergeant."

Times have changed and the military has to adapt to those changes, Whelden concluded. More service members are married. Many are single parents. "If you don't feel your children are being properly cared for, that's another stressor," he said. Consequently, the military dramatically improved child care. We've done a good job to become the benchmark for the nation in that program."

The Army is working to accredit its family advocacy programs, he said, and some commands are offering financial management programs aimed at reducing family stress.

"I'm pretty excited about where we're headed with financial management programs, because those are the kinds of programs that are preventive in nature. We're not going to get rid of family violence completely, but there are certain things we can do to reduce stress. Financial management training is clearly one of them."

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