When PTSD Is An Excuse
October 11, 2008
Those of you who are regular visitors to A Soldier’s Mind, know that PTSD and how the military treats our Troops who are suffering from PTSD, is high on my list of things that I watch very closely. I see the effects of PTSD on a regular basis and have dealt with it’s effects on people suffering from it for quite a few years. I strongly advocate for, is better health care for our returning Soldiers, whether they have physical injuries that can change their lives, or whether they’re suffering from TBI or PTSD. Something that I’ve been seeing lately that really alarms me however, is Soldiers suffering from PTSD, committing crimes and then using their mental disorder as an excuse to not be held accountable for the crimes they commit. Unfortunately, that’s occurring more and more and it frightens me that they would be allowed to do so.
The one thing that I want to stress here, is that just because someone is suffering from PTSD, doesn’t mean that they don’t know the difference between right and wrong and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have control over their behavior. If we allow them to use that as a crutch and an excuse their behavior, then honestly, I don’t see them bettering themselves. Instead, we’re inviting them to stay stuck in that behavior and never taking personal responsibility for their actions. We’re telling them that it’s okay for them to break the law or do bad things, because they have a mental disorder. That’s just not acceptable. When we allow it to become acceptable, then we’re opening the door for thousands of Americans from Soldiers to a crime victim, to do whatever they please and to use the excuse that they’re suffering from PTSD. There are several treatment modalities out there that work very well with people suffering from PTSD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of these treatments. Using this type of treatment, the person is taught to change the way they think and how they act upon thoughts that they have, in stressful situations. They’re taught to take ownership of their thoughts, feelings and actions, so that they do the right thing, instead of acting inappropriately.
When I worked as a police officer, we often had people say that they didn’t realize that their actions were against the law and thus they felt they should be able to get by with their illegal activities. That didn’t happen. Not having knowledge of the law, was not an acceptable excuse for their law breaking behavior. With Soldiers suffering from PTSD, or perhaps a young person who was sexually abused as a child and thus suffering from PTSD because of the trauma they encountered during their childhood, we still have to remember that they do, in most instances know the difference from right and wrong. Thus, they should be held accountable for their actions.
I’m sure many of you are wandering what I’m getting at. Yesterday, as I was browsing the internet and reading articles on Military.com I read a story about a veteran who was suffering from PTSD and used that as an excuse for his becoming violent during an incident on the highway, in which a lady cut him off. He then pulled up beside her in his vehicle and fired a round at her car from his .40 cal semiautomatic pistol. The bullet went through the door of the car. Luckily the woman and her daughter were not injured. His attorneys argued that he was suffering from PTSD which thus diminished his mental capacity to differentiate right from wrong. The jury didn’t buy the argument and sentenced the young man to a minimum of 12 years in prison for the charge of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon. As well they should have. He got into a situation that made him angry, and responded in a totally inappropriate manner. He knew that what he did was wrong, yet he made the choice to do it anyway.1
Prior to the trial, the veteran was evaluated by Vancouver psychologist Kirk Johnson, who told the court that he suffered from PTSD. He explained that some of the symptoms of PTSD are substantial irritability and a quickness to anger. Dr. Johnson further went on to say that the Soldier did not meet the criteria for using mental health as an issue, that the young man did not meet the criteria for diminished capacity.
Unfortunately this is an alarming trend that I’ve seen on more than one occasion. I’ve seen counselors provide letters for Soldiers stating that they suffered from PTSD and would not be held accountable for their actions. Having worked as a counselor, not only is the counselor putting their licensure on the line by such action, but they’re basically giving the Soldier permission to do whatever they want to do, even if it’s against the law, because of their mental health issues. That’s not right and it’s basically sending PTSD sufferers the message, that they can use their mental health issues an excuse for breaking the law and unfortunately, in many cases, victimizing others.
Say perhaps that you had a Soldier who returned from Afghanistan, after a difficult deployment in which they witnessed several of their comrades killed and witnessed the atrocities that the terrorists visit upon the local people and has been diagnosed with PTSD. He or she returns home and begins drinking and becomes involved in an accident that left several people dead. Should this Soldier be held accountable for their actions? Or should they not be held accountable because of their mental health issues?
Or say that a Soldier suffering from PTSD, becomes angry at his spouse because their baby is crying loudly and nothing seems to get the baby to stop crying. The Soldier then severely beats his wife, breaking her jaw and arm. He then picks up the child and begins shaking it until it quits crying, causing the baby to suffer from “shaken baby syndrome’ and require several months of hospitalization. Should this Soldier be held accountable?
Unfortunately, these situations are all too real and not only with Soldiers, but civilians as well, who suffer from PTSD. They do something that’s blatantly wrong and then use their PTSD as an excuse for their behavior. This troubles me, because I see that as actually causing the PTSD sufferer more harm by not helping them to get better. By allowing them to use their PTSD as an excuse for bad behavior, aren’t we sending them the wrong message?
I’m all for providing aggressive treatment for those suffering from PTSD to help them improve their lives and relieve their suffering. Especially our returning Troops. You have to use a model similar to that used to treat people with addiction. For years, alcoholics or drug addicts, used their addiction to these substances as excuses for their behaviors. One of the corner stones of addiction treatment is that they first admit that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol and that they take ownership for their behavior, instead of making excuses. Until the addict or the PTSD sufferer does that, they’ll stay stuck and not get better. Yes, PTSD is very real and can be life changing, however, with help, those suffering from PTSD can get better and can lead a normal life. So let’s empower them to get better, instead of helping them to continue to wallow in a pit of self pity and use their PTSD as an excuse for everything they do and everything that happens to them.
- http://www.military.com/news/article/vet-blames-iraq-for-road-rage-shooting.html?col=1186032310810&wh=news [↩]