Five killings this summer involving couples at Fort Bragg were probably due to existing marital problems and the stress of separation while soldiers are away on duty, Army investigators said today.
But the 41-page report also said Army culture discourages military families from seeking help when domestic problems are still at a stage where they potentially can be resolved.
"The bottom line is trying to create a different culture so soldiers and their families understand that seeking help is what we want you to do," said Lt. Col. Yvonne Tucker-Harris, director of the Army's family advocacy programs.
The conclusions were in a report from a 19-member team, including mental and physical health workers and military clergy, who visited the base in August and September.
Authorities say four Fort Bragg soldiers killed their wives in June and July. Two of the men committed suicide and the other two are charged with murder. Three of those cases involved Special Operations soldiers who had served in Afghanistan.
In a fifth case, a woman is charged with murdering her husband, a major in the Army's Special Forces.
The report recommended that the Defense Department study the impact of increased military operations on family stress. It also said distrust of military family care and mental health programs "may contribute in rare cases to tragedy." It also said focus groups showed that marital discord was not unusual.
Col. Dave Orman, a psychiatrist who led the team, said one recommendation to prevent future tragedies is earlier intervention. To do that, Orman said, mental health specialists must be in combat battalions, as chaplains are now.
"We're not doing what we need to be doing yet," he said. "There was a prevalent attitude that seeking behavioral health care was not career safe."
If mental health workers can be located outside large clinics and in combat units, they can gain confidence of soldiers and help them before problems escalate into the type of tragedy that hit Fort Bragg, he said.
Orman also said all of the couples had troubled marriages, but none of the families sought help at any level.
The investigators interviewed military leaders, doctors, leaders of family support groups, military and civilian law enforcement, and civilian public health officials. They also conducted anonymous focus groups with soldiers, spouses and other people on the post.
The report said the anti-malaria drug Lariam, given to troops sent overseas, was unlikely to have been at fault. Side effects of the drug, also known as mefloquine, have been known to include psychotic episodes.
The team found that family support groups were inconsistent in the help they provided and the Army's program for reacclimating soldiers returning from deployment varied from unit to unit.