FARMINGTON — The challenge of domestic violence is an ongoing issue of concern for the state. It’s also one that affects veterans, according to Dovey Balsam of Industry, who spent a year researching and proposing ways to help veterans and their families.

“The stressors from recent continual wars are exacerbating domestic violence among veterans’ families,” Balsam wrote in a policy sent to Gov. Paul LePage.

She hopes her work will catch the governor’s interest and develop into potential action.

Balsam, a nontraditional senior at the University of Maine at Farmington, spent the past year researching and forming recommendations as UMF ‘s Maine Public Policy Scholar.

The prestigious scholarship program requires students to look at a real-life policy issue facing the state, perform extensive research and analysis, and then recommend policy solutions to the highest level of state government.

Her recommendations include lots of education and pulling people together to help the approximately 150,000 veterans living in Maine transition back to life with their families, she said. There are several programs, but they don’t work together, she added.

She also endorses expansion of the new Veterans Treatment Court throughout the state.

Based on an established California program, Swords to Plowshares, Balsam proposes “Establishing a group of persons trained in meeting and serving the special needs of veterans.” The group, in turn, would reach out to communities and train people to work with veterans closer to home.

First, the group would need training to understand military culture and the mindset of a combat veteran. Understanding that a military culture exists is difficult for some, but Balsam said she’s lived it.

Several family members have served the country, including her father and son.

“I developed a respect for veterans,” she said. “They have a place in my heart.”

But for some families, it can be an environment that’s controlled.

“Basic training strips the individual,” she said. “They are taught to function as a team.”

Veterans are coming back (from war) in varying stages to an economy that is difficult, she said. Some are more apt to be involved with domestic violence even if they weren’t violent before.

That Maine has a high population of veterans living in rural areas where services can be difficult to access takes its toll, especially on those those returning from war. Stress and waiting for help provide opportunities for personal family issues to escalate, she said in her report.

When her own son was returning from Afghanistan, a simple remark about changes he would face ignited his anger, she said. It was months before he would speak to her. While hurtful, it was only anger and bad words, she said.

Fortunately, she was better prepared to understand the behavior. At least, more than other family members might have been, she said.

Prior to this year, her work as a UMF Wilson Scholar centered on the effects of combat trauma on veterans. 

She has also looked at how religious values are handled in combat, including spiritual and moral injuries.

Her connection with Victims for Peace was a blessing when her son was in Afghanistan, she said. She needed help getting through that year.

Balsam graduated Saturday. She majored in political science and interdisciplinary studies, a degree program that helps prepare student to integrate knowledge from different perspectives, with a concentration in sociology/anthropology, according to a release.

She came back to school with a goal to finish college soon after losing one son in a drowning accident, she said. She completed her work in six years. She’ll take the summer off and then continue efforts to advocate for veterans.

“As I got older, I learned veterans are not getting what they deserve,” she said. “If someone is willing to put their life on the line, they deserve more than what they get.”

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