Annapolis Criminal Defense Attorney Assisting Veterans Accused of Violent Crimes

PTSD and its effects on combat veterans

A combat veteran returns home after his first, second, maybe third tour of duty. He is greeted by his children at the airport with brightly colored balloons, and the people around him cheer. His buddies take him out for a night at the local pub: cold beer, loud music, darts flying across the room. The next day, the mayor hosts a parade in his honor; thousands of people line the streets to throw confetti and listen to the local high school marching band play. They hang out of windows and line up on the roofs a few stories above, screaming and tossing flowers.

It’s the scene in every old movie when the heroes return from war. And it’s exactly the type of scenario that triggers the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that affects between 10% and a third of men and women who served in combat zones. PTSD manifests in different ways for different people, and violence is one of them. When a veteran with PTSD stands accused of a violent crime, he or she will need a criminal defense attorney who not only understands what is happening, but can craft a strategy customized to his or her needs.

My name is Drew Cochran, and it is my honor to represent combat veterans in a court of law. As an Annapolis defense lawyer, I work with Mids, active duty, and retired servicemen and -women who gave their health and peace of mind to our country. You had our country’s future in mind when you served; I’ll have your best interests in mind now.

The facts about violent crimes being committed by veterans

Let’s address the elephant in the room, first. There is a documented link between combat veterans and servicepeople, and violent crime. Most veterans do not commit violent crimes upon returning home. However, when it occurs, the majority of this violent crime is directed towards their loved ones: significant others, spouses, children, loved ones, etc. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that, of the calls they received between 2006 and 2014:

  • 90% were made by women
  • 73% of callers reported physical abuse
  • 14% of callers had previously called the hotline

These percentages are frightening, when you look at them. But they also deal in small numbers: in 2014, only 1401 people called that number.

What this data tells us is that, statistically, we’re looking at a small portion of the military population who will be accused of committing a violent act against a loved one. This is important, because one of the most damaging myths in our culture is the idea that all combat veterans are ticking time bombs.

This is untrue. In fact, statistically, combat veterans are no more likely – and may even be less likely – to commit violent crimes than the average citizen.

The effects of PTSD in returning war heroes

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, contributes to that ugly myth, as well. While symptoms vary from person to person (there’s no real guideline to determine who will be affected by PTSD, though victims of traumatic brain injuries may be more susceptible), they usually fall into four categories. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, those categories are:

  1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms).
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  3. Having more negative beliefs and feelings.
  4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).

The way these symptoms manifest themselves can vary, too. Some veterans have nightmares; some are overwhelmed by bright lights and colors. Some become withdrawn, and exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiety. Others may lash out and exhibit violent tendencies. This can lead to charges of assault, domestic violence and even homicide.

Is PTSD a viable defense for veterans accused of violent crimes?

Yes – and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (or DSM-5) proves it. The DSM-5 includes a new category called “Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders,” and PTSD is listed within it. A “qualifying stressor” may include:

  • Perceived threats to one’s life
  • Sustaining a life-threatening injury
  • Surviving an act of violence

Sounds like a combat scenario to me – and the DSM-5 thinks so, too.

You can read the discussion of this change to the DSM-5, but this is how it shakes out: some veterans with PTSD may enter what is a called a “dissociative” state. This can result in these men and women feeling as though they are still in danger, or that they are back in the combat zone, or that the people around them are out to hurt them. They may also experience “emotional numbing” (the inability to experience positive emotions) or emotional detachment. Add this to hyperarousal (“a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, fatigue and accentuation of personality traits”), and you now have a man or woman who feels threatened, caged, unable to relate to the people around him or her, and suffering intense feelings of anxiety and alarm, who may or may not think he or she is still in a combat zone.

These men and women have spent months, perhaps years, in situations where the only way to avoid being killed was to take the shot themselves. The dissociative state caused by PTSD can easily trigger a veteran’s combat training. To a civilian, it looks as though the veteran has “snapped.” To the vet, it is a literal life-or-death situation, triggered by his or her own brain.

Helping veterans with PTSD who are accused of a crime

The VA has pages and pages of research and data about PTSD – but what good does it all do, if veterans cannot get the help they need? The New York Times reported in 2011 about veterans who were doped up on anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, and yet those drugs were ineffective. In 2016, Rand Corp discovered that “only one-third of troops with PTSD received the minimum number of therapy sessions after diagnosis. Similarly, less than one-quarter of clinically depressed soldiers received adequate mental healthcare.”

Combat veterans have been denied the help they need time and time again. The VA has failed them – repeatedly – for years. Half of them do not seek treatment at all, and are thus ignored, because there is no outreach. Every day, 20 veterans kill themselves. And on the rare occasions when a combat veteran lashes out in a violent manner, ALL combat veterans are then lumped into the ticking time bomb myth.

Enough, I say.

At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, my team and I understand that every person is different, that veterans with PTSD are wildly misunderstood and underserved, and that EVERYONE in this country has the right to a defense. I’ve been helping the accused in Annapolis and across Maryland for almost 20 years. I know how to build a successful defense strategy, and I know that you deserve someone in your corner who will fight for your honor, the way you’ve fought for ours.

Fighting for veterans accused of violent crimes in Maryland

Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law is an Annapolis-based criminal defense firm. I protect the rights of veterans accused of violent crimes, including domestic violence, murder, and assault. If you have been charged with a crime, you need a smart, aggressive defense. Please call 410-271-1892, or fill out this contact form, and schedule a free consultation with me.

You are not alone in this fight. If you have been accused, take a deep breath and remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.