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Eric Elbogen, a forensic psychologist in Carolina’s School of Medicine, heads a team that developed tools mental health clinicians can use to assess and reduce risk for violent behavior in veterans.

Through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Elbogen and colleagues identified risk factors associated with risk of violence in veterans and, from that work, constructed and developed clinical checklists to be used by doctors in the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital system and non-VA medical facilities treating military veterans.  (Read more about the team’s research and work with veterans.)

At the same time, the team is helping veterans enhance protective factors in the lives of veterans in order to reduce odds of violence and other poor outcomes. These efforts include:

  • a money management class with an emphasis on employment,
  • use of mobile apps to promote mindfulness and goal achievement.

The researchers have found through a national survey of veterans that the presence of protective factors – physical health like not having pain or good sleep habits and psychological health such as resilience or financial stability– is related to fewer post-deployment adjustment problems such as alcohol misuse, suicidal behavior, and violence and aggression toward others.

Elbogen has run a money management group at the Durham, N.C., VA hospital for the past seven years and leads a Department of Education funded grant to teach veterans with psychiatric disabilities how to better manage their finances and connect with vocational resources: “We help people get jobs, others we help buy cars for the first time in their lives. Work is protective. Financial stability is protective. Veterans who work and meet their basic needs are less likely to be aggressive.”

The group published a study this year in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrating that poor money management increased odds of subsequent veteran homelessness four-fold. “Like our statistician says, this is empirical data showing the blatantly obvious. But Google the phrases ‘financial literacy and homelessness’ or ‘budgeting and homelessness.’ As shocking as it may be, you do not find much. As far as we know, our research is the first connection between financial literacy and homelessness.”

Also, through a Department of Defense funded study, Elbogen’s team is using mobile apps to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) who might have higher risk of impulsivity. “Veterans use the apps on an iPod touch to promote mindfulness, to keep them grounded in the moment, and to develop goals that the app reminds them about at different times. Research shows that some veterans with both TBI and PTSD have problems doing this and have trouble with attention and memory. We’re doing this study to see if this mobile technology can help overcome these deficits.”

By Scott Jared, UNC-Chapel Hill University Relations.

Read more about Elbogen’s work with veterans.

Published February 17, 2014.