Opening Statements

Defending the Defenders: New Guide Covers How to Defend Veterans with Invisible War Wounds


Invisible wounds of war such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury affect veterans in different ways. For some, the combination of mental strain and impulsivity can lead to criminal court.

The National Veterans Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, plans to release a new manual this month for defense attorneys on how to best represent such clients. Their numbers are expected to grow as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, says Brock Hunter, a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney who helped edit the book, Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court.

“We know so much more about PTSD today than ever before from a medical standpoint, psychological standpoint and from a historical standpoint,” he says. “The more we know about it medically, the more scholars are going back into historical documents and finding veteran crime waves following every major war our country has ever fought. Veterans bring their wars home with them.”

“The big wave is yet to come,” adds Hunter, who worked on the book with Floyd Meshad, the president and founder of the National Veterans Foundation. “It’s going to be the veterans who are still serving, who have served multiple combat tours like we’ve never done.”

Meshad wrote a book on the subject in the 1980s that, Hunter says, was the inspiration for the new one.

The manual explains the mental health aspects of PTSD and traumatic brain injury so attorneys can understand the experts, and it contains a section on “cultural competency” to help them understand their clients. The book includes an extensive legal section covering how PTSD can be used as an insanity defense, to prove diminished capacity, in plea negotiations and in sentence mitigation, says Hunter, who recruited “all [his] heroes in the area of mental health, the law and veterans” to write sections of the book.

“PTSD is treatable,” he says. “These folks can turn around and be very valuable assets to their communities. … History has shown very clearly that if you can get a veteran into treatment and intervene with them, you can get them on their feet.”

You can find out more about the book online at veteransdefensebook.com. Also see “The Battle on the Home Front,” November 2011.

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