It is estimated that between ten to thirty percent of all military veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder characterized by a host of symptoms ranging from flashbacks to anxiety to feelings of hopelessness and guilt.
If not treated, PTSD can lead to a downward spiral involving mental anguish, substance abuse and addiction, broken relationships and alienation, and even criminal activity.
As members of the therapeutic community develop ways to diagnose and treat PTSD in our veterans, members of the legal community are wrapping their heads around how the law can and should deal with the criminal ramifications of military-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
A client’s post-traumatic stress disorder might open the way for an affirmative defense based on insanity. A lawyer defending a veteran with PTSD in criminal court might also raise PTSD to secure an alternative sentence under California Penal Code Section 1170.9.
Penal Code §1170.9 allows judges to sentence military veterans to treatment instead of prison or jail in cases where those veterans committed their crimes as result of sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems stemming from service in the United States military.
A number of California counties, including Ventura and Los Angeles, also have special “veterans courts.” These collaborative courts help low-level offenders deal with underlying problems like PTSD, unemployment and substance abuse that lead to criminal conduct in the first place.
Orange County gets credit for instituting the fist veteran’s court in California. Buffalo, New York created the first such court in the nation.