As Veteran-Related Crime Statistics Increase - Defense Attorneys Will Have a New Tool Available

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn't a false diagnosis or fake illness. It is in the news every day. And it isn't going away. And with this in mind, a major new tool for attorneys is soon to be released. Veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are discovering that the invisible wounds of war, which often went undiagnosed when they were in combat zones, are rising to the surface in numbers previously unexpected. Thousands of men and women are dealing with issues that demand treatment. According to the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), and supported by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many of these veterans are finding themselves unable to handle the ravages of PTSD, as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (caused by concussions), and the criminal courts are experiencing a rise in their appearances before the system. The NVF is producing an important new publication directed at defense attorneys who represent these individuals. This first-of-its-kind tool is scheduled for release this spring.

New from the National Veterans Foundation: Attorneys Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court

I have learned that judges do have a unique ability to lead and to become agents for change.
Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Esq. , Ohio Supreme Court

The National Veterans Foundation, a Los Angeles based non-profit, 501- c (3) human service organization, has underwritten the creation of a much-needed tool for attorneys who defend veterans locked into the criminal justice system. Whatever it's been called, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) has been around since humans began fighting and killing other humans. Never before in history has the subject been so much apart of the news, family discussions, TV programs, and scrutiny by the Defense Department.

The DOD says the following: "PTSD is defined as an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event; it is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an "outside force or agent," but is a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event." Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD can include re-experiencing the original trauma(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, and increased arousal—such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance. Symptoms last more than one month and up to a lifetime, and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Over 2 million men and women have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002. Approximately one-third of military personnel have served more than one tour in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 20,000 members of the U.S. Army have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq some five or more times. The military has kept 70,000 service personnel beyond their scheduled discharge date. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs predicts that between 30-40 percent of Iraq veterans will eventually experience PTSD.

As both the New York Times (as recently as January 1, 2012) and Veterans Today (back in October 2011) published, some 1,700 U.S. forces lost limbs in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Internal injuries and severe burns also impact many of these veterans. These visible wounds that all can see might be made more bearable by prosthetic devices. Nevertheless, these injuries will always be noticeable. At the same time, many men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have returned stateside without an adequate diagnosis – let alone a plan for treatment. These invisible wounds (perhaps in the hundreds of thousands) can go unnoticed for decades before spewing out in a wide range of politically incorrect actions. It’s when spousal abuse, public intoxication, use of guns in robberies and/or murder come to light, and these veterans blast into the news, that the public begins to articulate that “we” have a problem.

Approximately 300,000+ returning Iraq and Afghanistan war vets -- a number equivalent to nearly 22% of America's active duty military -- suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And many feel that these estimates are too low. And more than 115,000 soldiers have sustained mild traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Shad Meshad, President and Founder of the NVF, one of America's most sought after speakers on the subject of combat stress, trauma therapy and the readjustment issues confronting returning soldiers and their families, is the lead editor of The Attorney's Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court. His co-editor, Brock Hunter is a practicing defense attorney in Minneapolis and frequent speaker on issues facing traumatized veterans upon return from combat.

The Table of Contents for this first, one-of-a-kind publication is a “Who’s Who” of experts from the legal, medical and mental health fields. A sampling of a few authors includes:

  •     Brigadier General (U.S. Army, Ret.) Stephen Xenakis, M.D., considered by many as “the” best medical mind the U.S. military had on the subject of PTSD;
  •     The Honorable Robert T. Russel l, Buffalo, N.Y. Veterans Court, writes an “Overview of Veterans Courts”
  •     Markku Sario, Esq., the public defender in the history-making Jessie Bratcher case -- one of the first Iraq veterans in the U.S. -- and the first in Oregon -- to successfully claim post-traumatic stress disorder as a defense for murder;
  •     Dr. Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D., and authority on TBI, writes of “Combat Trauma and Criminal Conduct;”
  •     Major Evan R. Seamone, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps, who writes on “Preparing Attorneys to Defend Veterans Against Themselves in Criminal Cases;”    
  •     Trial attorney, Linda McDermott, writes of the “Special Considerations in Capitol Cases; and
  •     “Applying a Proven Model to Veterans” is an important chapter written by the Honorable Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Ohio Supreme Court.

These experts join numerous other contributors producing a tool that will contain 700+ pages of practical hands-on tools that attorneys of all experience levels from both sides of cases, including judges and expert witnesses, that can be put to use immediately.

Afghanistan and Iraq veterans (male and female) currently experience disproportionately high unemployment rates. Homelessness, alcohol and drug misuse by Afghanistan and Iraq veterans has increased significantly. Divorce and domestic violence is increasing within families where one or more parents is an Afghanistan or Iraq veteran. Child abuse is increasing in families where a parent is deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, and child maltreatment has increased in families of enlisted soldiers when the soldiers are deployed. Without a doubt, the data strongly suggests that an emerging storm is approaching American society. The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court is a response to these realities.

The National Veterans Foundation believes that it is important to understand that this publication is not to be seen as a “get out of jail free” card. It is intended to provide for the best defense possible while striving to obtain treatment for the veteran during the sentencing phase of a trial. To be incarcerated without ongoing and aggressive treatment, veterans have a stronger chance of returning to the general civilian population with ongoing and unresolved issues. Treatment is a critical component of a successful defense.

Attorneys who take on the defense of veterans become a part of the same continuous battle the veteran faces, are not only defending the veteran’s constitutional rights, they are providing support and defense for their clients – even against themselves.

All proceeds from the sale of the Attorneys Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court goes to the ongoing work of the National Veterans Foundation.

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Dennis McClellan
National Veterans Foundation
(407) 417-1855
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