- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York veterans are advocating that criminal courts statewide consider whether defendants who were in the U.S. military suffer from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder that may have played a role in the offense.

The bill would allow them to be diverted into treatment.

Companion bills are pending in Senate and Assembly. Advocates want a prompt vote, with lawmakers scheduled to return Tuesday, already staying past their planned departure for the year to deal with other unfinished business like rent controls.

While New York has special courts in 17 counties assigned to deal with veterans’ cases, bill sponsors say a statewide uniform system is needed. They say research shows about half of veterans with symptoms of mental illness seek help, with many of them getting minimal treatment.

“The bill’s core process will lead veterans to treatment, family restorations, and once again become productive members of society,” said John Pemrick Lewis, a Navy veteran and member of the state council of veterans’ organizations. They’re calling for an up-or-down vote this session, he said.

More than a dozen veterans came to Albany on Monday to support the legislation. Many acknowledged that the evaluations they got for psychological issues when leaving the military were inadequate.

Unseen wounds like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and depression can last years after a veteran is discharged, and they aren’t limited by the geographic boundaries of war zones, said Art Cody, an attorney who retired after a 30-year military career that included an Afghanistan tour in 2011-2012. “There is currently no statewide system, no statewide mechanism to identify and assist veterans in the criminal justice system,” he said.

The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence has raised concerns about losing offender accountability and victim protections in the legislation, where felony charges could be dismissed after a diversion program. Executive Director Connie Neal said it’s positive that all sex offenses were excluded from this bill’s diversion programs, but they hope all domestic violence-related offenses would be excluded.

According to the Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD, data show the prevalence of violence among those with PTSD in the U.S. population is 7.5 percent but it’s 19.5 percent among military veterans who served since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The center noted that many of those veterans are relatively young, with a median age of 34, an age group associated with a higher risk of violence.

A 2009 study in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry examined 236 male combat veterans seeking service for the disorder at a VA clinic, and found one-third of those in an intimate relationship reported physical aggression against their partner in the previous year, while 91 percent reported psychological aggression. Comparable rates were found for general aggression, the study said.


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