Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become an increasing problem for the military. The Army Times this month has reported that more soldiers have died due to suicide than in combat. This is a disturbing statistic.
Many of our clients have served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. www.jamesphillipslaw.com and www.ucmjlawyer.com. They have been highly decorated for their combat service. The problem is that emotionally, when they come home from the combat zone they are not ready for civilian life. At home, they exhibit symptoms associated with PTSD. They become aggressive. They experience nightmares. They have violent tendencies. They are anti-social. They begin to self-medicate.
I had a client that had all of these issues. He was court martialed for a series of criminal misadventures, to include grand theft auto, drug use, adultery, etc. At sentencing, the prosecutor argued that this soldier should recieve the max punishment for his misconduct. The problem was that this is the typical military view. Misbehaving soldiers are criminals. The Military struggles to have a holistic response.
In this case, the judge was presented with evidence that our client had PTSD and that he was a forever changed person from his experiencing in Iraq. Our client testified that as soon as he came home he could not associate with his family. He had a solid relationship with his wife and baby prior to leaving for Iraq. Once overseas, he was repeatedly placed in harm’s way. He was diagnosed with PTSD upon his return from Iraq. When he got back from Iraq, he sent his wife and baby home. He then started drinking, smoking pot, and just losing his mind.
After the prosecutors closing argument, the judge asked “Is that really the government’s position?” The answer was “yes.” The judge replied, “well then I will dismiss everything the government just said.”
The reason for this was that this is a ridiculous and morally bankrupt response. What do you do with these soldiers who have been damaged by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan?
We successful used his behavior and his PTSD diagnosis to keep our client from being punished with a punitive discharge. The problem was that in the end, the Army did not know what to do with this soldier. He cannot cope with being in the Army; yet, he needs sustained and long-lasting treatment. The Army owes him his long term health care. They owe him a VA disability. The judge understood that. The Army doesn’t.
The only thing his command knew to do was to send him to a court martial. For them, the soldier’s behavior was criminal. For us, his behavior was a tragedy that needs to be addressed in a healthier way by the military. Combat is not going to end. Ignoring PTSD is not going to stop soldiers from experience trauma.