I was asked to address this issue by folks on the Facebook Page. It is a delicate subject and I wanted to take the time to really think about how I feel about the whole situation, so it took me a few days to write all of this down.
Over the past few years, there has been a very strong push to create an adjunct court system for veterans called the Veterans' Court. Supporters of the concept argue that veterans are not treated equitably by the court system and that the punishments/sentences meted out are much more severe than, in many cases, the crime dictates. They also argue that there are often mitigating circumstances that cause many of these veterans to break the law, PTSD being one of those circumstances. While I agree that veterans aren't currently being treated equitably by the court system, I think that the concept of a separate court system for veterans sets a dangerous and irresponsible precedent. Before punching your computer in anger, let me explain.
Being Singled Out for Stigmatization:
As anyone in the veteran community knows already, veterans with PTSD (and veterans in general) are often stigmatized by the public. It's called the 'Rambo Effect'. The ignorant believe that you and I, as law abiding citizens, are exponentially more likely to go crazy, cause mayhem, and commit mass murder. When you spell it out like that it sounds pretty stupid. If we created a separate court system to address veterans crimes, do you see this stereotype improving or getting worse? How does anyone think that being singled out as different and warranting special treatment helps? For generations, minorities have been getting the short end of the stick in the court system. Do you see any initiatives to create 'Black Court' or 'Latino Court' or 'Gay Court'? All of these minority groups (in this day and age, veterans are an extreme minority) accept, understand and value the court system we have and strive to affect long-term change by changing the system that already exists.
A Crime Is A Crime Is A Crime:
If a veteran with PTSD turns to illicit drugs to numb himself or gets in a heated argument with someone and commits assault and battery, how is this different from anyone else with PTSD doing the same thing? While I understand that, as veterans with PTSD, what we experienced is truly horrible, a bad decision is a bad decision. Don't get me wrong, I am not condemning their actions. I understand how easy it can be to head down that road. The first time I was on prescription pain meds after the PTSD, I almost got hooked. If I would have gone down that road and gotten in trouble for abusing prescription medication or worse, who do I have to blame for that? Me. No one else. Just me. I don't think it's a good idea to create a system that would unintentionally encourage a lack of accountability. I have heard veterans say, "It wasn't me, it's the PTSD", completely deflecting blame for undesirable behavior off on their disorder. Creating this system would encourage this.
So, If Not Veterans' Courts, Then WHAT?
From my experience with vets who have gone through the court system, it seems that veterans get held to a higher standard of conduct than the average citizen. It the curse of honor and duty. Do we not hold ourselves to a higher standard than civilians? If a civilian and a veteran pulled a punk move and hit their respective wives, which one would you be angrier with? Which one would YOU hold to a higher standard? I know I would hold the veteran to a higher standard, fair or not. So, what is the solution?
EDUCATION. Plain and simple. All of these lawyers espousing the creation of the veterans' court could be spending all of that time and effort educating other lawyers (especially public defenders about the issues facing veterans - especially PTSD). If the argument is made that a veteran has a service connected diagnosis of PTSD or related behavioral disorder is not fit to stand trial but should be sentenced to court mandated medical treatment, how many veterans' lives would be irrevocably changed for the better? Veterans are notoriously bad about not keeping to their treatment regimens. I should know.
What I am saying is that veterans with behavioral disorders should be afforded the opportunity to get treatment first, before they are thrown in jail. Jail is a really bad place for someone with untreated combat PTSD, for obvious reasons. That being said, if a veteran IS afforded the opportunity to get medical treatment, is deemed fit and released from care, any further violations of the law should be treated like anyone else.
Now we just need subject matter experts to stand up and educate. We need those same experts to testify at trials. The argument shouldn't be about the severity of the punishment meted out, it should be about whether these veterans are competent to stand trial in the first place. God knows, before I started getting treatment for my PTSD, I sure as hell wasn't.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.