Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the UCMJ Articles

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If you suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and are facing non-judicial punishment, administrative action, or a court-martial for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ articles may provide you with an effective defense. A military law attorney can help you navigate the complexities of PTSD cases. Keep reading for more information on PTSD and the UCMJ articles.

The Prevalence of PTSD

When PTSD was first recognized, doctors diagnosed it as a form of wartime exhaustion. Now, medical professionals and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) recognize PTSD as a mental illness. According to some statistics, 1 in 5 soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan will develop PTSD. 71 percent of females are at risk of experiencing fragments of this mental illness as well.  

Self-medication is also a common factor in several PTSD and traumatic brain injury patients. Such drug use is in direct conflict with sections 112a of the UCMJ articles. Because of this, PTSD, drug use, and punishment can cause a vicious cycle.

The disorder is more commonly caused by any traumatic event. Studies have revealed that hostility related to PTSD is greater in sample groups with combat experience. Other research has shown that veterans with PTSD are more likely to show aggression in the face of stimuli than non-veterans. Such recognitions have prompted the justice system to begin considering ways to address the needs of veterans and apply the law fairly.

The Prevalence of PTSD in the Military In 2024

Studies show PTSD is a major concern among those who serve:

  • Approximately 11-20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD each year.
  • 12% of Gulf War veterans develop PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • Rates of PTSD are highest among combat infantry units at 25-30%.
  • PTSD affects active duty and reserve component members at similar levels.
  • PTSD is the third most prevalent mental health disorder among military populations.

Women are disproportionately impacted:

  • 20% of female veterans have PTSD, compared to 8% of male veterans.
  • Over 50% of female military sexual trauma survivors develop PTSD.

Those deployed multiple times face increased risk, with PTSD rates:

  • 11.1% after one deployment
  • 18.5% after two deployments
  • 27.2% after three or more deployments

Early intervention is key, as delayed-onset PTSD affects 38-60% of impacted veterans. Get help to avoid long-term consequences.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the UCMJ Articles

Symptoms of PTSD in Military Personnel

Common symptoms of PTSD among veterans and service members include:

  • Intrusive memories or nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
  • Negative changes in thoughts and mood
  • Hyperarousal symptoms like irritability, anger, and difficulty sleeping

Impact on Daily Life

Untreated PTSD can significantly impact the daily lives of those who serve:

  • Difficulties maintaining relationships, employment, housing
  • Higher risk of substance abuse as a coping mechanism
  • Increased chance of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts Early detection and treatment is crucial for long-term recovery.

Barriers to Care

Many face obstacles to getting help for PTSD, including:

  • Stigma around mental health in the military
  • Concerns it may impact career/security clearance
  • Logistical issues accessing treatment

It’s important to encourage help-seeking and make care more accessible.

Treatment Options

Evidence-based therapies for PTSD include:

  • Trauma-focused psychotherapies like cognitive processing therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Medications to manage symptoms when appropriate
Treatment Options for PTSD in the Military Population

The Insanity Defense and PTSD

The insanity defense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states:

“It is an affirmative defense…that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the accused, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her acts.” (Rule 706, RCM)

For those diagnosed with PTSD, this may provide a viable legal defense if:

  • PTSD symptoms were severe enough to render the individual “unable to appreciate” their actions
  • The offense occurred during a dissociative state or flashback related to PTSD
  • There is medical evidence demonstrating PTSD substantially impaired rational thought/behavior

Successfully invoking the insanity defense requires:

  • Documentation of medical diagnosis of PTSD prior to the offense
  • Assessment by a military forensic psychiatrist or psychologist
  • Testimony describing PTSD symptoms and relation to alleged offense

It is a high legal standard to meet. However, raising PTSD can support arguments for:

  • Lack of criminal intent or mens rea
  • Mitigation to justify reduced sentencing
  • Highlighting need for treatment rather than punishment

An experienced military defense lawyer can advise if the insanity defense applies in your case involving PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Insanity and the UCMJ Articles

So, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, you may be able to avoid a court-martial. Insanity is an affirmative defense under that Uniform Code of Military Justice, which states, “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the accused, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of the acts.” 10 U.S.C. § 850a(a).

While the UCMJ articles and UCMJ precedence do not adequately describe the complexities and contours of PTSD, recent developments in traumatic brain injury research are making waves in the military world. Put plainly, a positive diagnosis for PTSD is a serious condition. It may help you avoid a court-martial conviction in your case.

Choose Experienced Military Trial Lawyers in El Paso

Whether or not you have been officially diagnosed with PTSD, you may suffer from PTSD symptoms that can help your case. Our mission at Military Trial Defenders is to defend those who defend our country. We also work hard to offer our legal support to those military members who suffer from PTSD. To learn more about the relationship between PTSD and military law, contact our experienced military law team today.

CNN reports here that Bowe Bergdawl received a dishonorable discharge and avoided prison time.

The best thing about high profile cases is that it allows everyone to examine the justice system. Think O.J. After his case and to this day, legal scholars, pundits, and the public at large discuss it ad nauseum. Everyone has an opinion, but rarely has anyone watched the entire legal proceeding to understand how people, in both the case of Bowe Bergdahl and O.J. Simpson, and how the finder of fact came to their conclusion.

Bowe Bergdahl has four choices that he has to make. One of those decisions are whether he wants his case to be decided by either a judge or a military panel. In the case of Bergdahl he knew that he was going to be found guilty of something. The real question then, as his defense team concedes that he will have a federal conviction then becomes who is the best decision maker to give him a fair sentence.

In the military court system, the decider of guilt is also the entity that decides the punishment. In other words if you go with a judge in the guilty/not guilty phase, if you are found guilty, that same group will then decide an appropriate punishment after they hear additional evidence by the prosecution that is called evidence in aggravation. The defense will also have an opportunity to present matters in mitigation or extenuation. This part of the court-martial is an opportunity for the defense to give a better understanding.

This decision by the Bergdahl defense team was brilliant. Bergdahl had two facts that really should stand out to any decider of punishment. He was tortured for five years and he should have never been in the Army in the first place. In this case, a jury would have been either officer members or a mixed panel of enlisted (no lower in rank than the accused) and officers. One of many things Bergdahl would have needed to consider was whether his crimes and the testimony that another soldier is now permanently disabled in the pursuit of freeing Berdahl from his then captors.

Although there were so many decision to make, at some point Bergdahl had to understand the best chance for him to be a free man was to concede his career. A military judge is going to be able to see through the very emotionally charged testimony and not be moved from outside influences, like your Commander in Chief, saying the accused should be shot.

Bottom line is the defense team conceded the guilty vote in order to free their client. At least that’s how I see it. I believe a less capable defense team and a different decision by the client as to judge or jury would have put Bergdahl in jail for a lengthy amount of time, perhaps even life.

If you are in the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard and facing court-martial you need the best military attorney. Find the firm with the best military experience and is the right fit for you. Call Military Trial Defenders at 877-619-9657 for a free consultation or visit militarytrialdefenders.com for more information.

The above article is not legal advice. Every case is different and any person facing court-martial should seek the personal advice of an attorney. Google is not an attorney.  

Christopher David Cazares
Attorney at Law

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I be court-martialed if I have PTSD?

Having PTSD alone does not prevent you from being court-martialed. However, a PTSD diagnosis may provide grounds for certain legal defenses or sentencing mitigation if your PTSD significantly impaired your behavior at the time of the offense.

How does PTSD qualify as a defense under the insanity rule?

PTSD can serve as a basis for the insanity defense if, due to your severe PTSD symptoms at the time, you were unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of your actions. This is a high legal standard requiring evaluation by a forensic psychologist.

Will seeking treatment for PTSD negatively impact my career?

No, seeking PTSD treatment should not jeopardize your military career or security clearance. In fact, getting help can improve job performance and demonstrate responsibility. However, certain severe duty restrictions may apply during intensive treatment.

What are common penalties for misconduct related to PTSD?

Penalties can range from non-judicial punishment to court-martial and confinement, depending on the severity of the offense. Raising PTSD may result in alternative disciplinary measures focused on treatment rather than punishment in some cases.

Where can I get help for PTSD as a service member?

Resources include Vet Centers, Military OneSource, Military Treatment Facilities, TRICARE, and civilian PTSD programs. Speak to your chain of command or a military mental health provider to explore confidential treatment options.

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