Number of domestic violence incidents involving veterans on the rise

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- There are tens of thousands of domestic abuse incidents every year in southeastern Wisconsin. As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, the number involving veterans is growing.

"I`ve been officially diagnosed with PTSD, explosive anger disorder, high anxiety," Frankie Torres said.

Torres is among a growing number of veterans afflicted with mental illness. As a U.S. Marine, he witnessed a lot of violence during his two deployments to Iraq. He remembers one day in particular.

"We were approximately, let`s use the word, six blocks away when an explosion went off that you could feel underneath our feet and I mean just a huge explosion and it took out -- two of our Marines were KIA that day and two of them were severely injured," Torres said.

When he came home, he was a different person -- reacting to life in a different way.

"Just being overly aggressive, maybe car broke down, wife didn`t cook something, child, children were outside arguing, many, many small things.  It really wasn`t an actual big event that triggered this. It was more multiple small triggers that were just building and building until I reacted in a negative manner," Torres said.

That "negative manner" was an act of domestic violence in 2010.

Torres' story is not unique. Many service men and women are coming back from war more aggressive and more violent.

"I didn`t understand the change from the person I was before I went to Iraq to the person that I became during Iraq to the person that I was when I came back," Torres said.

"I think we underestimate what happens to our veterans and we sort of expect them to go back into the flow of normal living and when you`re exposed to the kinds of things you are in war you need help," Carmen Pitre with the Sojourner Family Peace Center said.

On a national scale, the number of military calls to the domestic violence hotline has more than tripled from 2006 to 2011 as reported by the Battered Women's Justice Project.

In the Milwaukee area, Pitre has also seen a rise. The center turned its focus on the issue after a few of those incidents turned deadly.

"We got concerned around the Azana spa shooting.  We knew that Radcliffe was a veteran and we started paying attention and became concerned in December after Jennifer Sebena was murdered," Pitre said.

In January, Milwaukee police say Anita Brooks was killed by her husband, Army veteran Keith Brooks. Pitre believes there was likely a history of abuse in each of these extreme cases.

FOX6 News spoke with a woman who has experienced domestic violence firsthand after her then boyfriend returned from a deployment.

"It`s almost like I wanted to validate his reactions.  Yes, he saw something bad, it`s understandable that maybe he`ll drink.  Drinking in excess some nights, understandable maybe that helps for you," the woman told FOX6 News.

Now, the push is on to keep another murder from happening by getting help for those who need it. Not only the victims of domestic violence, but those veterans dealing with hidden issues.

"There are more people that are going to go through this, more people that are going undiagnosed for PTSD, more people that want help but they don`t know where to go and they`re afraid.  They don`t want to report this. It`s a sign of weakness -- especially in the military," the woman told FOX6 News.

It is that social stigma around asking for help Mark Flower with Dryhootch is drying to change.

"It`s not a weakness to come in and talk about some of the things that are going on with us," Flower said.

Flower and his peers are working with Sojourner to help impacted veterans acknowledge they have a problem.

"Taking responsibility for the things that we do, it`s a very strength-orientated decision," Flower said.

As for Torres, he believes he'll never be fully healed, but his life has turned a corner.

"I know where I`m at now and I know where I`m going," Torres said.

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