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DEFENDING THE COMBAT VETERAN

An extraordinarily useful article for military practitioners appears in the November, 2013 issue of THE CHAMPION, magazine of the National Association of  Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The introduction invites readers to consider this:  Conceptually — the government has only a shaky basis to condemn improper behavior of the returning wounded warrior.  After all, the government itself created or caused the conditions leading to the offenses.

 PTSD: A Well-Accepted Fact Under Daubert

 

Many returning warriors suffer from post-traumatic stress.   A diagnosis of PTSD meets the scientific criteria of Daubert;  the illness has been accepted as textbook science for 20 years.

 The newest version of DSM-5  makes important changes for this diagnosis.

  •  PTSD is removed from the anxiety disorders section and placed into a new category — stress-related disorders.
  •  PTSD is the only diagnosis that directly specifies an external situation or event as its root cause.
  •   Placing PTSD into a separate category emphasizes its complexity, extending far beyond anxiety symptoms.
  •   DSM -5 acknowledges that PTSD can result in at least two cognitive symptoms which interfere with normal consciousness. These are   [1] depersonalization — persistent or recurrent experiences and feelings detached from — as if one were an outside observer of — one’s mental processes or actions; and [2] derealization symptoms, which consist of persistent or recurrent experiences or feelings of unreality.

7 Specific Symptoms of PTSD

   The DSM cites sites seven specific symptoms of PTSD , several of which are newly included.

  1. Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events and NOT due to head injury, alcohol or drugs
  2. Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations — such as, “I am bad.”   Or “no one is to be trusted”
  3. Continual distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event.
  4. Pervasive negative emotional states  — fear, anger, guilt, or shame.
  5. A markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
  6. A feeling of detachment or estrangement from others.
  7. Persistent inability to experience positive emotions such as happiness, satisfaction, or love.

 Hyper vigilance may also be present when PTSD occurs.  So is erratic behavior; angry outbursts [with little or no provocation], reckless or self-destructive behavior; exaggerated startle responses; problems with concentration; and sleep disturbances.

Creative Defense Strategies

The new DSM gives defense counsel working PTSD cases a variety of creative openings:

  •          Reducing or even dismissing charges due to PTSD.
  •          A formal mental health defense, even one perhaps leading to a finding of guilty by reason of insanity
  •          Assistance with post-trial and pre-sentencing, with experts advising the members of treatment programs, prognoses, and the long-term interests of both the accused and society.

Next time, pretrial strategies and effective techniques in pre-sentencing


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