Some say a life of service is its reward. It can be in many ways. Our men and women in the armed forces accept their duties boldly and selflessly, and they ask for very little in return.
That is why we must draw attention to the unfortunate circumstances they may encounter upon returning home. Interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system are not uncommon for returning veterans.
Some require more than just time to readjust to civilian life, and over half of those in this situation face additional issues with homelessness, substance abuse, and PTSD. If a veteran faces a trial, conviction, or jail sentence, prior military service can offer some help with their legal woes.
1. PTSD as a Mitigating Factor
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) afflicts many returning veterans and is among the most common diagnoses associated with armed duty. PTSD can be debilitating, affect one’s judgment, and lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse or violence.
Evidence has shown that defendants who receive a PTSD diagnosis can use it as evidence in their arguments during trial, at sentencing, or in appeals. It is considered a mitigating factor, which could reduce the length of a sentence, allow access to treatment programs in prison, and improve one’s chances for parole or early release.
2. Juror Leniency toward Veterans
Prior military service can also help if a defendant opts to have their trial heard before a jury of their peers. A study was conducted in 2017 to determine if jurors would be more sympathetic and, therefore, more lenient in sentencing veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Mock jurors were given a test case of a violent crime where one defendant was a civilian with no prior military service, and the other defendant was a veteran with PTSD. Jurors consistently gave more lenient sentences to the veteran defendant who – in one experiment – had between a 10 and 28 percent better chance of receiving a lower conviction than the civilian defendant.
3. Veteran-Only Legal Resources
As a veteran, a defendant would ultimately have greater access to legal resources to discuss this. Hundreds of organizations and initiatives operate in service of active armed forces members and veterans.
In the United States, government bodies like the Department of Veteran Affairs dedicate to research and outreach programs to help to return veterans with many issues, including legal matters but extending to housing, medicine, benefits, and so on. There are also many programs staffed by lawyers that offer reduced or pro bono services to veterans and free consultations for those needing to explore their options.
Our freedoms are protected by the veterans that serve our country every day. It is a terrible disservice that they are more likely than most civilians to face legal issues. So, if they find themselves wrestling with the weight of life after service, we should readily extend a helping hand.
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