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Defending Combat Veterans with PTSD

Below is an excerpt from a Sentencing Memorandum I prepared for the federal sentencing hearing of a combat veteran that was facing a 32 year minimum mandatory sentence.

As American troops have started to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a steady stream of media accounts focusing on veterans that commit crimes after returning home. A high percentage of these veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI). In 2008, the RAND Corp. study found that one in five veterans returning home had PTSD or major depression. A 2012 study of combat veterans found that 23% of the veterans studied who had PTSD and high irritability had been arrested for a criminal offense since their combat deployment. The study showed that combat trauma in the form of PTSD significantly raises the risk of criminal arrest. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that between 13% and 20% of those deployed have or will someday develop PTSD, which translates to more than 475,000 of the roughly 2.5 million troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The research demonstrates the need to expand the local veteran’s courts across the country, which guide veterans into treatment rather than into jail. The establishment of more than 168 veterans treatment courts nationwide is evidence that the problem is substantial.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was officially recognized as a distinct anxiety disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. (DSM-III). In June 2013, the release of DSM-V placed PTSD in a new category entitled Trauma and Stress Related Disorders which emphasizes that PTSD is a complex disorder that exerts influences far in excess of anxiety symptoms. The DSM-V recognizes that PTSD effects mood, cognition, awareness, affect, and physiological responses. PTSD is conceptualized as a complex manifestation of multiple symptoms.
The disorder stems from a stressor or traumatic event that commonly results in one of the following; dissociative flashbacks, hyper-arousal, survivor guilt, sensation-seeking behaviors, impaired impulse control, hyper-vigilance, over-estimation of danger. There are three typologies that closely correspond to criminal behavior in PTSD sufferers; dissociative reaction, sensation-seeking syndrome, and depression-suicidal syndrome. Research provides that there is a direct correlation between developing PTSD and participation in heavy combat. Post-Vietnam research showed that 25% of the soldiers that participated and survived heavy combat had been charged with a criminal offense.

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