There is a lot of conflicting information out there about whether or not post-traumatic stress disorder can make a combat veteran violent. I get why no one wants to say that vets with PTSD are dangerous: most of them aren’t, and you don’t want to stereotype a group of people who risked their lives to protect yours.
On the other hand, denying the association of increased violent tendencies with combat vets is hurting them, because it doesn’t allow a lot of veterans to get the help they need and deserve. I mean, look at it this way: someone who’s doing a tour or six in a war-torn country is trained to use deadly force. You can’t force someone, anyone, into a position where their lives are literally in danger every single day, and then send them back into the land of non-stop cable news, loud noises and bright lights with a bottle of anti-psychotics and expect them to be just fine.
So, does PTSD make you violent? In and of itself, not necessarily – but it’s absolutely a contributing factor in cases where vets commit acts of violence. The problem is that over and over again, the VA has denied proper treatment to veterans who the disorder, and any untreated condition is bound to get worse over time.
This lack of care was cited in a death penalty case in Texas in 2010, when a judge ruled that the lawyers of John Thuesen, a combat vet convicted of killing his estranged girlfriend and her brother, “hadn’t adequately explained the significance of his PTSD to jurors, and how it had factored into his actions on the day of the murders.
PTSD, aggression and acts of domestic violence
The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person. Dr. Casey Taft, a researcher at the VA, told NPR “When one is exposed to war-zone trauma and combat trauma, they are going to be more likely to assume the worst and assume people are trying to do harm to them — and more likely to respond to that with aggressions.” While statistics for the percentage of combat vets who are physically violent towards their spouses or partners is on par with national statistics, they are three times more likely to become violent.
In other words: when you live and work in hell for a number of years, where your life is on the line every day, you are more likely to react violently to perceived threats.
This could explain why a vet with PTSD, experiencing stress and fear – and who may be affected by outside factors which lead to a likelihood of becoming violent – lash out at their loved ones. The condition is at the heart of a case involving a 27-year-old who suffered a dissociative state and shot his best friend. It’s at the heart of a case in Nova Scotia where a vet killed his whole family and then himself. (He tried to seek help at a local mental health unit, but was denied a bed.)
The VA has pages and pages of information on PTSD and domestic violence, but it’s not enough. They need to treat the men and women who were willing to give up their lives appropriately and completely. The owe them. We all do.
Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law is an Annapolis criminal defense firm serving clients throughout Maryland. I consider it an honor to fight for and uphold the rights of veterans. If are accused of a violent crime, put my experience, skills and resources to work for you. Please call 410-777-8103 or fill out this contact form to learn more.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Take a deep breath, and remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.