NEW YORK (Reuters) - A survey of public records by The New York Times found at least 121 U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing or were charged with one after returning home from duty, the newspaper reported on Saturday.
The Times said the numbers indicated a nearly 90 percent increase in homicides involving active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six-year period since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Neither the Pentagon nor the Justice Department tracks such killings, which are handled by civilian courts. An Army spokesman said the report did not offer a complete picture.
Saying its research likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, the Times found three-quarters of the veterans charged were still in the military at the time of the killings, more than half of which involved guns.
Some 25 of the offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.
The overwhelming majority had no prior criminal records, the Times said, but it added that in some of the cases, “the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed.”
The Times said about one-third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, while some 25 percent were fellow service members.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce told Reuters in an e-mail that Army statistics “show little or no increases in positive drug use, driving under the influence crimes or domestic abuse in the past years among the more than 300,000 soldiers who have deployed in this war.”
The findings stemmed from searches of local news reports, examination of police, court and military records and interviews with defendants, their lawyers and families as well as victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.
Interviews with relatives of the veterans brought a common refrain of “He came back (from war) different,” the Times said, with references to substance abuse and mental instability such as paranoia.
Few of the 121 veterans received more than cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, the veterans, their lawyers, relatives and prosecutors said. While many showed signs of combat trauma, they were not evaluated for or diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until after the homicides, according to the interviews.
Boyce said the newspaper’s statistics “appear to be based on a basic review of American newspaper crime stories from 2004 to 2006, rather than statistics provided by the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense, or even any interviews with military medical or judicial professionals.”
Such methodology would make it “nearly impossible for reporters to determine the extent of highly personal mental-health assistance provided to individual members of the Armed Forces,” Boyce wrote.
Writing by Chris Michaud; Editing by Peter Cooney