One out of every ten people on death row is a veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, according to a report released on Monday by the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit focused on studying the effects of capital sentencing. Veterans make up only 7 percent of the U.S. population, but with 300 former servicemen on death row, they represent 10 percent of all capital offenders awaiting execution.
The report draws on the latest Justice Department data, from 2007, meaning the figure is likely a low, given that American soldiers have continued to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan since then.
The report’s author, Richard Dieter, says that impact is often overlooked when veterans stand trial for criminal wrongdoing. He argues that veterans are more likely than ordinary civilians to be in prison for homicide, the report suggests, as bursts of anger, paranoia, and hypervigilance are all PTSD side effects induced by prolonged exposure to combat. “Many have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered,” Dieter wrote.
Judges and juries are often unsympathetic to the claim. Defending veterans with PTSD is a notoriously tricky endeavor as PTSD is not an applicable argument in an insanity plea. Worse yet, combat training and experience is often invoked against former soldiers facing homicide charges.
More than 300,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been diagnosed with PTSD, but only half of these servicemen and women reported receiving treatment in the last year. According to recent whistle-blower reports, the Department of Veteran Affairs has intentionally dragged its feet to fix a computer glitch preventing veterans to enroll in the free health-care program awaiting them at the end of service. The Huffington Post reported initially that 35,000 veterans were stuck in “pending” status because of the bug.
“VA is continuing to research Combat Veterans with expired eligibility in order to ensure appropriate remedies,” the VA said in a recent statement.