By Kara M. GreeneMarch 22, 2007
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Army News Service, March 22, 2007) - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the country's first state alternative sentencing program in the nation for war on terror veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
The law took effect January and provides judges the option of alternative sentencing for veterans diagnosed with PTSD, substance abuse or other psychological problems stemming from a combat tour. The convicted veteran may be placed on probation and enter a voluntary treatment program at the federal, state or private nonprofit level.
"Our veterans make so many sacrifices on this nation's behalf and many of them end up suffering from the long-term effects of combat," said Assemblywoman Nicole Parra in an office press release.
Ten years after the Vietnam War, the legislature passed section 1170.9 of the Penal Code. However, this section doesn't apply to recent veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in six returning veterans of the Iraq war may have mental illness, said Pete Conaty of Pete Conaty & Associates.
"This is the culmination of a two-year effort to address this issue at the state level by veteran activist groups Armed Forces Retirees Association and the Vietnam Veterans of America, who sponsored the bill," said Conaty.
For Conaty, retired lieutenant colonel and Vietnam veteran, the passage of the law is an unfortunate triumph, as California's 2.3 million veterans make up more than 6 percent of the state's population, the largest vet population in any state, he explained. His firm advocates for many veteran groups in the state.
"The years during and after Vietnam saw many veterans ending up in jail because of war-induced PTSD. Previous law limited eligibility to Vietnam veterans, thus making an outdated assertion that Vietnam veterans are the only servicemembers affected with PTSD," Parra said.
Originally identified as shell shock in World War I and then combat fatigue, PTSD was finally recognized as an illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980 based upon the psychiatric experience of veterans of the Vietnam war.
"Hopefully, this will be in sharp contrast to what occurred with the Vietnam War veteran who ended up in prison because of lack of understanding of PTSD," Conaty said.
More information about the bill is available at www.leginfo.ca.gov.