Ongoing military actions in Iraq & Afghanistan are impacting criminal and civil courts across the country. Citizen soldiers are finding their lives transformed in many unexpected ways and at great cost to their families, friends and co-workers. It is imperative that everyone working in the legal system understand these collateral consequences of war.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): veterans returning from Iraq & Afghanistan are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD veterans of other conflicts. PTSD is related to specific life experiences and that makes it distinct from other mental health illnesses. For veterans, these specific life experiences are directly linked to their experiences in the military.
Veterans who have suffered a TBI will demonstrate similar similar symptoms (65% of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans treated at Walter Reed Hospital were diagnosed with TBI). It is estimated that at least 300,000 Iraq veterans have returned with psychiatric problems associated with their military service. It is projected that these service related injuries have projected lifetime treatment cost in excess of $600 billion.
Military Mission: the modern military depends heavily on its citizen soldiers. This requires the civilians transitioning into the military to convert their thoughts and beliefs into a mindset that is consistent with military objectives. What is acceptable as a civilian may not facilitate the military mission and vice-versa. Conversely, a good soldier’s principles are not necessarily acceptable or advantageous in mainstream society. For example, the willingness to intentionally take the life of another is generally frowned upon in mainstream society. Doing so is a crime. And both are basic requirements of a soldier in combat. It is the primary component of the military mission.
The transition to and from citizen to soldier to citizen is potentially aggravated by PTSD and TBI related issues. All of which will have an impact on both the civil and criminal courts. The following list of early indicators suggest a large influx of veterans will be involved in the judicial system:
Increased drug & alcohol use among returning military members
Record-breaking levels of suicide (and suicide attempts) among returning service members
Increased domestic violence among returning service members and their families
Increased divorce rates among returning service members (almost 80% increase among officers)
Domestic violence has increased substantially since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars
Child abuse involving military families has increased over 30% since 2001
Reported increase in homeless Afghanistan and Iraq veterans
Higher than average unemployment rate among young veterans
Research indicates that female service members are more likely to have PTSD related problems than their male counterparts in otherwise similar situations AND this is the first conflict where large numbers of women are serving in combat roles
Female service members are more likely to experience and be traumatized from sexual assaults while in the military