Domestic Violence Awareness Month provides us the opportunity to reinforce our commitment to preventing domestic violence in the military. With supportive counseling services and expanded reporting options, the Department of Defense is working hard to prevent domestic violence and protect victims. Our militaryís leadership, from the top down, wants to ensure that our servicemembers and their Families understand the importance of this issue and what steps are being taken to stop domestic violence, protect victims and hold offenders accountable for their behavior.

Most of us recognize that healthy relationships are built on trust and good communication skills. When couples can trust one another and openly communicate, it is much easier to address problems before they escalate into potentially abusive situations.

However, when abuse does occur, it is important for the victims to understand their reporting options. Conflicting feelings about reporting the abuser or a general fear of reporting may prevent victims from seeking help. Some may worry about losing military benefits such as housing, medical or commissary privileges. The DoD recognizes these concerns and has made reporting domestic violence easier. Victims can choose to make either an unrestricted or a restricted report and in both cases can receive advocacy, medical help, and counseling.

Victims of domestic abuse who want an official investigation should make an unrestricted report by contacting the servicememberís command, FAP, or law enforcement. The incident will be fully investigated and the victim will have access to victim advocacy services, medical care and counseling. Unrestricted reports also provide the command with the discretion to take administrative action against the offender.

Victims who do not want to pursue an official investigation but who would like to receive victim advocacy services, medical care, and counseling can make a restricted report to a FAP victim advocate, clinician, supervisor, or a military health care provider. A restricted report allows the victim time to evaluate the relationship and to take control over how much information he or she wants to share, with whom and when. A restricted report means law enforcement and the command will not be notified of the abuse and there will be no investigation or administrative action taken. For some victims, a restricted report provides a greater sense of control and empowerment.

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic abuse or if you would like more information about counseling services or reporting options, contact your local FAP or Military OneSource at 800-342-9647.

For our programs and services to be effective, we need to hear from you. Were you aware of the available reporting options?

One incident of domestic abuse is too many. Join me this month to spread the message that domestic violence victims are not alone and DoD is working hard to prevent abuse and protect Families. Until next time, be well.