Veterans Accused of Crimes Could Have Combat Effects Considered Under New Bill

May 21, 2014

Justice for Our Veterans Act would require evaluation of mental heatlh, physical injury and military training for current and former military facing criminal charges.

How much might a soldier’s combat experience cause them to commit a crime?  The New York State Defenders Association says ‘a lot’ in some cases.  The group is pushing a bill in Albany it says will bring more justice to court proceedings when the defendant is a veteran or active duty military.  Executive Director Jonathan Gradess says he’s trying to protect a group of vulnerable service members.

“Who have been deployed once, twice maybe even six times, who are returned without any form of decompression or debriefing, and whether they’re acting out of reflex to use some f the more dangerous skills that have been embedded in their capacity, or whether they’re mourning or grieving  over lost comrades in arms.  Lots of them are self-medicating. But what will happen in court is they’ll have a time out and the focus of the court will be turned to the treatment of the problems that caused the criminal event.”

The  Defenders Association wants to get military training, effects of battle and other aspects brought into the courtroom for judges to consider.  Legal Director Art Cody says a soldier just back from war with a fellow troops might act out of instinct and find himself in trouble.

“So if they’ve come back and are only a week or so out of theater, out of Afghanistan, out of some very, very rough sections, and their battle buddy starts to get pushed around or roughed up in a bar, they may over-react.  They’ve been trained that more than anything else they’re going to protect this guy and they’ve just come from an environment where their buddy could have been killed.”

The Justice for our Veterans Act would also have a court consider things such as Post Traumatic Stress or a Traumatic Brain Injury.  The measure would require evaluations of veteran defendants to consider if those factors might have contributed to the crime.    

The Defenders Association gathered supporters in Albany Tuesday.  Officials say as many as one-in-four combat veterans suffers some sort of mental effects…likely higher percentage among military who commit crimes. 



There are a few veterans’ courts in New York, but this bill would make consistent the evaluation process for a veteran defendant.  That way, things such as Post Traumatic Stress, a Traumatic Brain Injury or even combat training and reflexes might be considered.  Gradess says too many vets with mental health issues are not being properly treated.  The bill has sponsors in both the Senate and Assembly.