Veterans, Violent Crimes, and PTSD – How an Attorney Can HelpVeterans are rarely violent criminals. It is simply not the military way of life. However, when a combat veteran is charged with a violent crime, like an assault, non-veteran prosecutors or district attorneys may ignore the underlying trauma and conditions which affect combat vets in ways civilians cannot understand. Defense attorneys with experience working with veterans and former servicemembers understand and recognize the devastating effects of combat that can lead to mental illness or substance abuse.

Vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues need diversion programs, not prison. A good veterans criminal defense attorney can help.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is a mental health issue that some individuals develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. These events often include combat, natural disasters, car accidents, or sexual assault. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), anybody can develop PTSD, no matter who they are or how old they are.

Further, a “number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.”

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder typically appear soon after a traumatic event, but for some, they may not show up for months or even years. When symptoms last longer than a month or begin to interfere with everyday life, an individual may be diagnosed with PTSD. The VA describes four main types of PTSD symptoms, although not every person experiences PTSD in the same way.

Continually re-experiencing the event

Reliving the traumatic experience is a common symptom of PTSD, and memories of the event can come back at any time, with the accompanying fear and intense emotions from the first time you experienced it. Many veterans, especially combat veterans, suffer from flashbacks and nightmares. You may also hear, smell, or see something that reminds of you of the event and brings it all flooding back – this is called a “trigger” and is very common among those with PTSD. Things like fireworks or loud noises can be triggers for many veterans.

Avoiding triggering situations

Another symptom of PTSD is avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event. You may avoid socializing with other veterans or even talking about your service altogether. Many individuals with PTSD tend to avoid crowds, as they feel dangerous. Veterans who have seen active combat may avoid driving if they’ve experienced a convoy bombing, or avoid movies about war. Others keep themselves busy nearly 24/7 to avoid negative emotions or seeking help from a therapist.

Negative changes in emotions and beliefs

Trauma can change a person completely, including the way they think about themselves and the people they are close to. These symptoms can cause dramatic changes in your thoughts and feelings. You may become disinterested in relationships and feel apathy towards other people in your life. You may feel that the world is a dangerous place with no one to trust. You may even find yourself unable to talk about the traumatic event, or even begin to block out parts of what happened.

Feelings of hyperarousal

Many people with PTSD also suffer from hyperawareness, which means they are always alert and aware of potential danger. If you often feel jittery or keyed up for no reason, you may be experiencing hyperarousal. Some examples include having a hard time sleeping or concentrating and being easily startled. The VA also mentions that many individuals with hyperawareness prefer to sit with their backs to the wall in public spaces like restaurants and doctor’s offices.

When PTSD leads to violence

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious mental disorder that can change a person entirely. Sadly, PTSD can also lead a person to commit acts they would never commit otherwise. NPR reports that there is a definite link between PTSD and violence, and that veterans with PTSD are three times more likely to be violent.

Dr. Casey Taft of the Department of Veterans Affairs tells NPR, “When one is exposed to war-zone trauma and combat trauma, they are going to be more likely to assume the worst and assume people are trying to do harm to them — and more likely to respond to that with aggressions.” Many combat veterans are also dealing with brain injuries and other disabilities, which can exacerbate their PTSD. One woman interviewed for NPR whose husband has military-induced PTSD and a history of domestic abuse said, “He is not his post-traumatic stress disorder. He is not his brain injury. These are things he has gotten from serving his country. And that is what we deal with.”

Central Texas veterans court programs

Texas has what’s called a veterans treatment court program for certain defendants and charges. An experienced Killeen attorney can help you with this program, determining if you qualify and helping you get the care you need to treat your PTSD – outside of jail.

Bell County has its own veterans treatment court, and requires a clinical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, or a mental health disorder related to your time in the military. This diagnosis must have materially affected your criminal conduct. Your attorney will work to show this connection, and then work with Bell County to determine a formal treatment plan.

Successful completion of the program can result in your charges being dismissed, and you can move on to a brighter and healthier future.

At the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, we protect the rights of veterans when they are charged with a crime. As an Army wife and mom, Attorney Harrell understands the military life and is here to help. To set up a consultation, call us today at 254-680-4655 or visit our contact page. We proudly serve clients from our offices in Killeen and Copperas Cove.