Articles Posted in Veterans Affairs

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Many of our veterans have returned from service to our country with mental and physical disabilities. Sometimes these service related disabilities result in criminal charges being filed. The search for justice in the criminal justice system for our veterans can be difficult. Many prosecutors give lip service to the returning veterans’ ailments but simply dismiss them as not relevant to the criminal charges before the court.

The key to getting the prosecutor to appreciate the veterans’ symptoms is to provide medical and military documents which substantiate the underlying condition(s). First the defense has to prove to the prosecutor that the veteran is, in fact, a veteran. Then the question is, so what? The answer to that question is that a veteran deserves special consideration because of the service to the country. To translate that fact into action means the defense has to prove to the prosecutor the veteran served and did so honorably. But even more important is the need to prove the criminal conduct is the product of the service.

Crucial to the defense of any veteran charged with a criminal offense is meeting the challenge of showing that whatever disability the veteran is suffering from is the reason he or she committed the crime. Veterans of combat may be diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Even after a diagnosis, the key is to prove that the criminal act was caused by the disability. For example, the veteran wants to kill himself. So he takes drugs and intends to kill himself by driving into a wall. Unfortunately, he hits another motorist first injuring that motorist. Why did he want to kill himself? If it’s a combat related mental issue, it can make a difference to a prosecutor who understands the conduct. If it’s a theft case where the veteran steals because of his mental disorder it has to be explained as such. It is the defense attorney’s job to make sure the prosecutor understands this connection.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a real problem in our veterans returning from combat deployments. Many times the conditions are not diagnosed until the veteran becomes a defendant in the criminal justice system. How the criminal justice system deals with these defendants is a great challenge in the future.

The Veteran’s Court has been instituted in some courts in California in an effort to acknowledge the veteran’s service and deal with it in an organized, comprehensive fashion complete with Veteran’s Administration participation. Yet, what happens to the veteran who doesn’t qualify for Veteran’s Court? While Veteran’s Court is a great alternative when available, in some jurisdictions, Veteran’s Court doesn’t even exist. Now Veteran’s Court funding, as all the system’s funding, is at risk.

The prosecutor who is willing to consider the defendant’s service in a meaningful way has many options at his disposal, short of entry into Veteran’s Court. A criminal defense attorney needs to present a creative alternative to a conviction or a jail sentence to the prosecutor. For example, a criminal case could be delayed with the requirement that the defendant attend counseling, job training, and medical evaluation. Community service is an option that could be added to any delay or continuance of the proceedings. The goal of the delay would be to show the prosecutor that the defendant deserves a second chance. The defendant must be willing to meet his obligation to overcome the issues that brought him to the criminal justice system’s attention. If drugs or alcohol are the cause of criminal conduct, the defendant has to meet the challenges that addiction brings. In-house residential treatment instead of jail time should be considered as an option. Out-patient follow up with vocational training showing the prosecutor that this defendant is not likely to re-offend is a must.

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Veteran’s Day is celebrated once every year by the country. Yet the sacrifice by our veterans is not always so easily recognized any day in the current criminal court system.

Often times I represent men and women who have served our country both in actual combat and in supporting roles. These individuals find themselves traumatized by their service experience to the United States of America. When they come home, all too often there are difficulties coping with day to day life. Sometimes hurdles seem too high to overcome. Depression can set in. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol can become an unhealthy and illegal fix to problems that seem overwhelming.

Once the veteran turns to drugs and alcohol he encounters the criminal justice system. When that happens, what role should the veteran’s military service play in the disposition of the case? I think that the veteran deserves every consideration possible under the law. The prosecutor should evaluate the case understanding that the veteran’s (defendant’s) service has helped protect the very system he now finds himself in.

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