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.
Every veteran deserves to have his service count for more than just the years in uniform. That doesn’t mean that just because one served he gets a “get out of jail free card”. What it should mean is that if the time served in the military results in a disability that causes criminal conduct as a civilian after military service, the veteran ‘s should be afforded additional help.