Association Between Unethical Battlefield Conduct and Mental Health: Implications for Leaders and Ethical Risk Assessments

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Objective: Excessively violent or otherwise inappropriate acts by military personnel on the modern battlefield can impede mission success, and they can have detrimental effects on the victims, witnesses, and perpetrators. This study provides new insights into the association between unethical battlefield conduct and mental health, as well as the processes through which misconduct on military operations occurs. Method: Through a comprehensive literature review, we examine the scope of issues around unethical battlefield conduct and we consider the association between unethical conduct and mental health from different perspectives. Results: Our review culminates in a process model that suggests that mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can drive unethical battlefield conduct through anger induction and/or disregulation. Additionally, we propose a framework, the Triad of Ethical Risk, that underscores three factors that increase service members’ risk for acting unethically on the battlefield: (a) recent history of combat exposure, (b) history of committing offenses that underscore violence and/or impulsivity, and (c) recent history of anger-related behaviors. Conclusions: This practical framework can assist military leaders and health professionals in understanding the processes through which mental health can affect battlefield conduct, and in identifying personnel at risk of offending before they offend.

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