Reviving the "Vietnam Defense": Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Responsibility in a Post-Iraq/Afghanistan World

By Burgess, Daniel; Stockey, Nicole et al. | Developments in Mental Health Law, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Reviving the "Vietnam Defense": Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Responsibility in a Post-Iraq/Afghanistan World


Burgess, Daniel, Stockey, Nicole, Coen, Kara, Developments in Mental Health Law


I. Introduction

The Vietnam War was a conflict in many ways unlike anything American soldiers had ever seen before. It was an unfamiliar kind of war, fought in unfamiliar terrain, for an objective that was all too often unclear to those asked to fight it. Young men were flown into battle and asked to fight alongside fellow soldiers and under commanding officers whom they had never before met. (1) They were often exposed to extraordinary brutality, committed both by the enemy and sometimes even by their own comrades. And when they returned home, these soldiers were faced with a disinterested, if not hostile, public. (2)

These factors combined to result in a staggering amount of psychological trauma among the soldiers returning home from Vietnam. As will be discussed, many of the survivors of this war began to psychologically reexperience the worst parts of their military service. Relatedly, they often became isolated, irritable, and unable to integrate back into society. Many returning soldiers even committed suicide, (3) while many others committed criminal acts. (4) The latter group, some of them suffering from what was then called "Vietnam Syndrome," often attempted to use the impact of the Vietnam War on them to explain, justify, or mitigate their criminal acts, with differing levels of success. (5)

However, it was not until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized Vietnam Syndrome--or as it came to be known, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD")--as a psychological illness. (6) It has been estimated that up to seventy percent of the soldiers who survived Vietnam suffered some form of PTSD as a result of the war. (7)

Several decades of relative peace pushed the subject of combat-related PTSD as a criminal defense to the background of the criminal law. However, as soldiers serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to return home, they are likely to confront some of the same issues and problems as their predecessors in Vietnam did upon their return. By 2009, over one-third of war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan enrolling in the veterans' health system after 2001 received a diagnosis revealing at least one mental health issue. (8) Like the soldiers in Vietnam, the military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting a difficult war that has posed severe challenges and exposed them to traumatic events for which they were often ill-prepared. (9)

Additionally, the current prolonged nature of the conflicts, resulting in multiple and lengthy deployments, continues to burden the psyche of these soldiers. (10) And like their predecessors in Vietnam, today's military personnel will return home to a public deeply divided on the moral justification and effectiveness of their mission. (11)

This Article will examine the current interplay between PTSD and the criminal law. In Part II, the historical development of PTSD as a psychiatric diagnosis will be explored, as well as the nature of the disorder as it is currently defined. In Part III, the possible ways in which PTSD could lead a veteran to commit criminal acts will be discussed. Finally, in Part IV, defenses potentially available to these veterans, the difficulties faced by someone with PTSD pursuing these defenses, and strategies that may enhance the likelihood of a successful defense will be outlined.

II. PTSD Described

A. Historical Background

Though Vietnam brought the issue of combat-related stress disorders into the national consciousness, the apparent revelation that soldiers often experience severe psychological reactions to combat is not a new one. (12) As early as the Civil War, it was acknowledged that intense combat could lead to psychiatric symptoms. (13) At the time, soldiers exhibiting symptoms of PTSD after battle were diagnosed with "nostalgia," or "soldier's heart." (14) This diagnosis encompassed symptoms of hyperalertness, dizziness, and chest pain, which were thought at the time to be caused by a heart condition. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reviving the "Vietnam Defense": Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Responsibility in a Post-Iraq/Afghanistan World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.