In conjunction with Veterans Day earlier this month, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released a new report that chronicles the plight of some 300 veterans on death row nationwide, including many who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to report author Richard Dieter, “Defense attorneys representing veterans accused of capital crimes often fail to investigate and present evidence of PTSD and other war-related mental injuries. Prosecutors, judges and juries are often not adequately informed about the psychological effects of being immersed in combat, even though the mental scars of war can be just as debilitating as physical injuries.” The report calls on authorities to better account for service members facing execution and identify where the system has fallen short.
Read an opinion piece by three retired Brigadier Generals, “Vets suffering from PTSD need our help,” published in USA Today.
TCADP Member and former Marine Bob Michael provides the following perspective on the report:
This month, we observed a special holiday, Veteran’s Day, and this week many of us celebrated Thanksgiving, participating in both private and public expressions of thanks for the service of our nation’s veterans. As a former Marine, I am often moved by the overwhelming public support for veterans today, and find it a refreshing contrast to the public reception of the 1970’s. As a nation, we’ve now got that part “just about right”.
Certainly, there is more work ahead as we deal with the large numbers of veterans and their families who have been damaged by wartime experience. Physical impairments are often tragic and visible, and resources for treatment are provided on a massive scale for the massive need. Also, recognition of the long-term effects of PTSD has improved along with the science of mental health issues. While we may celebrate the improved care provided to veterans, it is sad to note that so many veterans who have committed heinous crimes are subjected to death penalty convictions without a full examination of all the mitigating factors that [could] result in a sentence other than death. The gravity of a death penalty case suggests that mental health issues, and particularly PTSD issues, requires more attention from litigators, legislators, our governors, and our judges.
My personal belief is that the death penalty is wrong in any case, and it is made even more painful to know that our courts have often overlooked the mitigating value of service to the nation. Veterans deserve not only our heartfelt thanks, but also our compassion in the courts!
– Bob Michael, Carrollton, Texas