The Atlantic: Should Veterans With PTSD Be Exempt From the Death Penalty?
“PTSD is a severe mental disorder that can affect intellectual and adaptive functioning, trigger flashbacks to traumatic events, and impair one’s judgment. As its name implies, it can develop after exposure to a life-threatening event….
Despite the stigma attached to PTSD, the Department of Veterans Affairs emphasizes that most veterans suffering from the condition are not violent….“It’s extremely important that we recognize that the majority of people with PTSD don’t engage in criminal and violent actions[, said Paula Schnurr, executive director of the VA’s National Center for PTSD].”
…Some legal scholars and mental health experts suggest the criminal justice system should treat convicted veterans suffering from war trauma differently than other criminals. In a 2009 Fordham Law Review article, Anthony Giardino, an attorney and former Marine, argued that veterans suffering from service-related PTSD and traumatic brain injuries should receive a categorical exemption from the death penalty. “If the death penalty is truly only for the worst offenders, justice requires that combat veterans suffering at the time of their offenses from service-related PTSD or TBI [traumatic brain injuries] not be executed or sentenced to death,” he wrote….
Giardino isn’t alone in making this argument. Mental-health experts Hal S. Wortzel and David B. Arciniegas made a similar case for exempting veterans affected by war trauma from the death penalty. Military training and combat, combined with traumatic experiences, may have an impact on aggression and behavioral control, the authors said in a 2010 article….
It’s difficult for the legal system to truly grasp what veterans with PTSD have experienced. This lack of empathy is a key obstacle to change…. Until society realizes how combat can change service members, the fate of capital defendants with combat PTSD will remain an open question.”