NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A day before Veterans Day, a new report suggests military veterans on death row haven’t received enough consideration for mental illnesses as a result of their combat experiences.
Richard Dieter is the senior program director for the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), the non-profit organization who released the report.
Dieter says when it comes to crimes committed by veterans illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder need to be taken into account. “It should be a, what we call a mitigating factor, there that is something that lessens the punishment without providing a get out of jail free card.”
A case in Texas is part of the debate over executing citizens and veterans suffering from mental illness. Scott Panetti was a Navy veteran who dealt with mental illness and had been treated at a number of VA facilities in Texas before shooting and killing his in-laws in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1992.
Panetti, who defended himself, dressed in a cowboy outfit and calling Jesus Christ as a witness, remains on death row.
Dieter says PTSD and other issues are unique to combat veterans and need to be taken into account before sentencing those service-people to death. “They’re not propensities to evil. They are disabilities that linger in a person’s mind and sometimes result in violent outbursts.”
So far this year, there are more then 360,000 vets receiving treatment for PTSD through the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the Battle Scars report, there are approximately 300 veterans on death row today, and many others who have already been executed.
The report doesn’t say all veterans are being treated unfairly, but Dieter says defense attorneys often feel that a combat stress defense will be used against their clients.
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