“War is Hell”– General William Tecumseh Sherman
Hell sometimes doesn’t end when the war does. We have had two centuries of honoring our fallen warriors, those indispensable few who gave all so that this nation, this experiment in liberty, would not end. We keep cemeteries and holidays and give posthumous medals to recognize their courage and sacrifice. Their widows and orphans become special to our society and we look out for them (not enough) so that they need not endure deprivation in addition to the grief of loss. But what about the wounded warriors, the ones who come home but leave something important behind?
If their wounds are visible, they can receive physical therapy, prosthetics, surgeries and, most importantly, accommodation by a society that can see their injuries. Their lot is not good and their suffering is certainly real but we can all understand what has to be done for them to make their way in the world. By and large, we do our best to help them along.
For the warrior whose wounds are not visible, however, things are more grim. The stress and trauma of war (combat, death of friends, loss of innocence and shattered wordviews) linger for many veterans for the rest of their lives. Those injuries can become wounds far deeper than any visible wound and can impair one’s ability to function in our society. After all, no one accommodates your combat-caused paranoia because no one can see that you are feeling paranoid. Even worse, most of our society doesn’t even stop to consider that the mental wounds of war persist and impact EVERY part of someone’s ability to interact with society. Instead, we just expect that a returning veteran can integrate smoothly back into normal life.
In the field of criminal defense, we know, all too well, that this is not the case. Many veterans struggle with severe persistent mental illness after returning home from serving their country. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the most recent high-profile illness, resulting in disorientation, difficulty controlling violent impulses, paranoia and occasionally hallucinations but it is by no means the only illness. Schizophrenia is another common war wound that causes a person’s entire world view to shift radically, rendering their ability to address everyday life extremely limited.
At the Bromund Law Group, we work very hard to see that these veterans are given the same consideration we would give a veteran with a visible wound. We believe that mental illness is no different than physical illness in the extent to which it is blameworthy to be ill. We don’t blame the person with the flu for being unable to work or the blind person for being unable to see and we shouldn’t blame the schizophrenic for being unable to handle our rule-intensive compliance-driven society. Fortunately, California law agrees. Through the provisions of Penal Code Section 1170.9, a criminal court is obliged to consider treatment rather than incarceration for veterans whose wounds are mental. This is a powerful tool for the skilled advocate to shape a resolution that is more just and rehabilitative.
We cannot guarantee that we will be able to avoid jail time for all charged and guilty defendants. We can, however, report that recently we were able to navigate a case through to resolution that will keep a severely mentally ill combat veteran from the Vietnam war from being further harmed by a sixty-day stay in the county jail. His schizophrenia rendered him too ill to benefit from the mental health court and too difficult to accept confinement safely. For the 18 months we worked on his case it appeared as if all the options were bad: he was guilty, there was more than enough evidence to convict him, he was in extremely poor health and his mental illness caused him to react violently whenever anyone tried to confine him. Fortunately, we persisted on his behalf and eventually won recognition that the principal embodied in section 1170.9 (treatment for the mentally ill veteran is appropriate instead of confinement) could be vindicated here through an out-patient process by staying his jail time while he was successfully participating in treatment. In this task, we were gratified to see the District Attorney’s Office of Ventura County recognize that doing justice requires using judgment and discretion to see that maximum punishment is not always what is best for society.
Now, thanks to this hard work, one of our wounded warriors is able to continue the long hard struggle to leave the hell of war behind and return to the bright light of freedom. His sacrifice allows us to enjoy our freedom; our advocacy allows him to attempt to enjoy his.
If you or someone you love needs help in seeking a just resolution to charges against a veteran, please do not hesitate to contact the Bromund Law Group. I am an honorably discharged naval officer with a long family tradition of military service; I care deeply about the welfare of those who defend our freedom every day and in every age. We never charge for a consultation and we are honored by your trust and confidence in our advocacy.
As always, this blog does not constitute advice for your case or any other specific case. It is merely provided to offer opinions and insights about ongoing legal issues. If you require specific advice, please call our office today at 805.650.1100.