~ By Tom Sweet ~ Former Grunt, Military Contractor, and Paramedic
In the past few weeks I have read a number of articles about people using PTSD as an excuse for committing crimes ranging from domestic abuse and rape to armed robbery and murder. In 99.9% of the cases the prosecution does a good job of shooting down the “I did it because I have PTSD” defense, but the damage is already done by the time these wastes of human flesh are convicted.
As news reports of the crimes come out, the headlines read “Veteran With PTSD Convicted in Double Homicide” or “Veteran With PTSD Arrested for Domestic Abuse.” By reporting these events this way, the media is making sure that the narrative is being pushed by some that veterans, especially those with PTSD, are violent and could “snap” at any time. Let me make this clear. PTSD does not cause a person to commit crimes and it is no excuse for those crimes. The men and the few women who have tried to use PTSD as a defense for their criminality do so because, just like almost every single person sitting in a jail or prison anywhere in the country, they refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions. Period! PTSD does not mean we are inherently violent or that we are going to go out and rob, rape, pillage, and plunder because of our stress disorder. It doesn’t mean that we are going to grab a gun and go on a mass shooting spree because we had a “flashback”. We are far more likely to hurt ourselves because of our PTSD through self-medication with drugs and alcohol, sexual addiction, or suicide, than we are to hurt anyone else. We will go out of our way to avoid hurting anyone else because we are “sheepdogs,” even after we leave the service, as it is our ingrained duty to protect people, not hurt them.
Those of us vets with PTSD have a hard enough time dealing with life in general, but whenever criminals use the “I did it because of PTSD” defense, it makes it that much harder for those of us who have not and will not ever commit a crime. I am more than familiar with the untrusting looks I get from people who find out I have served in combat. The unfair looks and comments we hear from people who learn we have PTSD are real. They have no clue what we have been through, or why those memories haunt us days, weeks, months, years, or decades later. These are the same people who read or hear about someone claiming that PTSD made them commit some horrific crime. Their reactions are sadly skewed. I have even had people pull their children closer, as if I was going to gobble them up in a single bite, when they asked why I had a service dog and found out I had PTSD. Their entire demeanor changed towards me in an instant over nothing more than a criminal in some case claiming PTSD made them do it. The drama-loving media creates the false misperceptions with their headlines, causing unjustified public fear. Reporters focus on these criminal vets who blame PTSD on their crimes, and the public and government, in turn, blindly eat it up.
Speaking of government, in the past 4 to 5 years under the direction of our current President, veterans who seek help for service-related PTSD have been stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights. These vets are not even notified of their prohibition from owning or buying firearms. In fact, they more often than not find out only when trying to purchase a firearm. And even worse, currently there is no process to be removed from this prohibited persons list for veterans placed there for nothing more than seeking help for PTSD. Our constitutional rights are stripped without even a hearing or means of recourse. This is how we are treated; those of us who were willing to commit violence on behalf of others. Each of us struggle with PTSD in our own very different and very personal ways day in and day out. We are your neighbors, friends, and loved ones, and our PTSD will not make us into the next crazed gunman or armed robber. Those things happen from having a lack of character, a lack of control, and in general, having the attitude that the world owes them something just because they are breathing, NOT because that individual has PTSD.