Younger men in the armed forces returning from a tour of duty are more likely to commit violent offences such as assault that the general population, a study has found.

from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research studied nearly 14,000 people who had served in the armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan and found a particular issue in men aged under 30.

The study, published in medical journal The Lancet, found that 20.6% of the men aged under 30 analysed had committed a violent offence, compared with 6.7% of men of a similar age in the general population.

Several factors were highlighted as contributing to an increased risk of violence, including being deployed in a combat role, experiencing traumatic events and being in the junior ranks.

However, the research also found that overall 94% of military personnel do not commit a criminal offence after returning from a combat zone. This makes them less likely to commit an offence than people of the same age in the general population.

The authors concluded that alcohol misuse and aggressive behaviour might be appropriate targets for interventions, but added that any action must be evidence based.

In addition, the authors noted that while post-traumatic stress disorder was less prevalent, it is also a risk factor for violence and, if diagnosed, should be appropriately treated and associated risk monitored.

Dr Walter Busuttil, director of medical services at veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress, welcomed the report: “These findings will help us and other service providers to identify which veterans are most vulnerable and in need of appropriate care and treatment after leaving the Armed Forces.

“It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to characterise all veterans living with mental health disorders as potential criminals. As noted in the report the vast majority (83%) of serving and ex-serving UK military personnel do not have any sort of criminal record, and the likelihood of violent behaviour is lower among older veterans (aged over 45) than in the general population.

“What we require now is continued public education to reduce any negative connotations with seeking help for mental health issues, as well as sustained funding for services for veterans.”

Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, added: “This report presents a frightening picture of the increased risk of violent offending by UK military veterans.

“While most members of the forces re-join civilian life successfully, a significant number will struggle. Sadly, homelessness and alcohol or substance abuse is more prevalent among veterans when compared with others of similar age or social background and we know that these are often associated with mental health problems. It is essential that any such problems are identified and quickly addressed when veterans return to civilian life.”