PTSD: Veterans in Crisis

PTSD: Veterans in Crisis

“Vets Suffering from PTSD Need Our Help” (11/11/15)

– The 3 authors are all retired Army general officers, specifically 2 lawyers and a psychiatrist.

– “In a criminal sentencing hearing, PTSD should be a strong mitigating factor. It’s not an excuse or a demand for acquittal. However, the very symptoms that define PTSD can be frightening to a jury if not carefully explained by a mental health expert familiar with the issues.”

– “Even as the use of capital punishment is declining, veterans suffering with PTSD and other service-related problems languish on death rows across the country.”

– “John Thuesen is on death row in Texas—a veteran of the Iraq conflict. His PTSD was not properly diagnosed or treated, and his lawyers did not do enough to explain his condition to the jury.”

“Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty” (2015)

– “When many of these veterans faced death penalty trials, their service and related illnesses were barely touched on…In older cases, some of that dismissiveness might be attributed to ignorance about PTSD. But many of those death sentences still stand today, when the country knows better.”

– “Defense attorneys failed to investigate this critical area of mitigation; prosecutors dismissed or even belittled their claims of mental trauma from the war; judges discounted such evidence on appeal; and governors passed on the opportunity to bestow the country’s mercy.”

– “In a country that is proud of its renewed respect for veterans and that is using the death penalty for a dwindling number of offenders, capital punishment stands out as a questionable punishment for those who have served in the military…The country owes its veterans a thorough examination of the use of the death penalty in their cases”

John Thuesen’s case is discussed on page 34: “Thuesen’s trial lawyers mentioned his military service but did little to convey the prevalence and severity of PTSD experienced by Thuesen and many other veterans. Recently, a Texas District Court judge recommended that his death sentence be overturned and that he be given a new sentencing hearing. The judge said the defense attorneys did not do enough in terms of explaining PTSD to the jury. He also noted that Thuesen was never properly diagnosed or treated for PTSD and that this should have been presented to the jury.”

“Why Are We Killing Veterans? The Repugnance and Incongruity of the U.S. Government Executing Psychologically Wounded Veterans” (2014)

– An exemption from the death penalty should apply “if the defendant served in the military, sustained a valid psychological injury (like PTSD or TBI), and that injury contributed to the commission of a capital crime…Executing this type of veteran-defendant is unjustifiable and unacceptable”

– “Neuroscience confirms that PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) drastically enhance the likelihood of criminality.”

– “Today, legal trends reflect a growing distaste for the government seeking retribution against service members and veterans whose criminal behavior is a product of their service.”

– “The American public overwhelmingly shares the belief that service-related psychological injuries mitigate a veteran’s culpability for abhorrent behavior.”

“Last Stand? The Criminal Responsibility of War Veterans Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD” (2010)

– “The impact of military training is particularly apparent when a combat veteran suffering from PTSD commits a violent act. This act may have involved a reflexive response due to his PTSD, with the PTSD altering his judgment and decision making.”

– So veterans with PTSD “may be less culpable than other individuals committing similar crimes.”

– “A series of studies in 2007 focused on the failure to identify the prevalence of mental health problems in general and PTSD in particular among both soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans returning to the U.S.”

– “Treatment for PTSD continues to improve, making rehabilitation for these veterans more likely.”

“Combat Veterans and the Death Penalty: A Forensic Neuropsychiatric Perspective” (2010)

– “There are compelling arguments, from a neuropsychiatric perspective, to treat combat veterans with PTSD and/or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) as a separate type of offender, a type that should be exempted from the death penalty.”

“Combat Veterans, Mental Health Issues, and the Death Penalty: Addressing the Impact of PTSD and TBI” (2009)

– “Because the existence of service-related PTSD or TBI in combat veterans reduces personal culpability, these veterans cannot be regarded as ‘among the worst offenders’ and should not be subject to the death penalty.”

– “Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons offer a framework for establishing a legislatively or judicially-created categorical exclusion for these offenders, exempting them from the death penalty as a matter of law.”

– “Lastly, the Court should consider the more fundamental question of whether the government should be in the business of putting to death the volunteers they have trained, sent to war, and broken in the process. The Court should find that it is unconscionable for the government to sentence soldiers and veterans to death for criminal actions that would likely not have happened but for their military service.”