A new report released yesterday estimates that 300 veterans are currently condemned to be executed in the United States. The report brings attention to the long-lasting effects of trauma and the resulting disabilities that many veterans have experienced, and raises questions about imposing the death penalty on trauma survivors and other people with severe mental illnesses.
The Supreme Court has barred the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities, and for children whose brains are not yet fully developed. People deemed insane cannot be executed, but the legal definition of insanity does not account for mental illnesses, like post-traumatic stress disorder, that should be considered in evaluating the appropriate sentence.
The study, by the Death Penalty Information Center, documents that many of the veterans sentenced to death suffered from PTSD or other mental illnesses as a result of their combat service, but their lawyers did not present their military service or the mental illness that resulted and too often went untreated. Today, only about half of the veterans diagnosed with PTSD or major depression after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are receiving treatment.