PTSD Spirituality: Veteran’s Courts, PTSD, and a Developing Sensibility

Many veterans with PTSD are trying to end their suffering through a method called “Suicide by Cop.” This is where a PTSD afflicted individual causes a “man with a gun” notification to go out over police radio. The police respond, there is a standoff, the PTSD person then points or fires his weapon at the police, and they kill him. It is a form of suicide generated by the PTSD-Identity. Sometimes the PTSD afflicted person will even yell out “Shoot Me!” to the police. In today’s

New York Times is a story which combines the threads of veterans with PTSD, suicide by cop, and a novel approach to jurisprudence called a “Veteran’s Court.” Written by Erica Goodie, “Coming Together to Fight for a Troubled Veteran,” tells how in some instances a veteran can be tried in a court that actually understands what PTSD has done to him or her. There are several conditions that must be met for a case to be placed in a Veteran’s Court and not very many counties in the country have seen their law codes mature enough to enact it. But the trajectory is an increase in the use of Veteran’s Courts use and this is a hopeful sign.

Can We Weave Any Good from the Threads of Misfortune?

I am sometimes asked what good America has achieved in its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are many tragedies, to be sure, but there are also a handful of trickle down developments that have been positive, even if they may feel counter-intuitive. Some are obvious, such as an improvement in how the Veterans Administration treats PTSD victims. There is still much room for improvement, but it is much better than four years ago.

Improving Women’s Education, Safety, and Health

Women Rights and Opportunities have improved. If the USA abandons Afghanistan, many women and girls who trusted the Americans will subsequently be harmed by al-Qaeda or the Taliban. These women and girls believed us when we said they could get an education, learn to read, or see a doctor. Simply put:

If we leave Afghanistan, women and girls will be brutalized by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Thus, American involvement in Afghanistan is not solely a military issue.  It is something of a social justice issue now. It is also a feminist issue. We know that women and girls are targeted by the terror people and will be further harmed if the USA abandons them. (True, for those Americans with Compassion Deficit Disorder, or those who think the life of a woman is worth less than a man’s life, these people they won’t give a damn if more women die). We gave these Afghani girls and women hope and opportunity. If we leave they will go back to having acid thrown in their faces for daring to want an elementary school level education (and this is not an exaggeration).

Benefiting the health, education, and general welfare of women in Iraq and especially Afghanistan was an unintended consequence of the wars. But if we leave they will be victimized, raped, and tortured, again, by the very people the USA said it would stop.

Amputation Technology and Therapy

With more soldiers surviving bombings the American Medical Industry has learned a lot more about amputations and how to develop prosthetic devices that work best for the patient. The advances in medical technology and therapy dealing with these types of wounds trickles down to help other Americans who have lost limbs in car or industrial accidents, etc.

While the country did not go to war in order to generate a steady flow of amputation opportunities for doctors, we have still learned from this development.


The military’s fumbling of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are becoming fewer and far between. Thank God. There are still wide spread and systemic problems, but it is better than four years ago.  And, I grant you, that yes, it would have been hard to treat PTSD afflicted troops worse than we had already been doing only four years ago.

The military is learning more about the realities of these conditions and that one is not a wimp, a malingerer, a coward, a gold bricker, a weakling, etc., because they contracted PTSD or TBI while in the service of their country.

There is still suffering that result from PTSD denial and shoddy medical treatment. Who can forget the systematic and long running Walter Reed Army Hospital Scandals? Not those soldiers or their families who were neglected by senior officers…and hopefully they will not be forgotten by you or I! Yet, care for victims of PTSD and TBI has certainly improved when compared to just four years ago.  See this series of articles for the latest on the neglect of American troops at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

As military doctors, psychiatrist, and chaplains learn more about what PTSD and TBI are, the better they will be able to minister to it, each in their own specialty. This knowledge will trickle down to regular Americans with TBI or PTSD and they will benefit from that knowledge, assuming the Insurance Industry and the Republican Party decides to allow them access to adequate health care. (Remember, America already rations health care based on the ability to pay and not based on the need for care.) So if the American Medical Industry and certain politicians decide that all American are allowed an equal chance to heal, then they will allow civilian survivors of trauma to benefit from what we have learned about military induced PTSD and TBI.

Paradoxically, in the future Americans will (potentially) receive better treatment for trauma, PTSD, amputations, and TBI, because we were so ill-prepared for it when it struck our troops in the recent past.

These treatments will be intended to heal on both the medical and theological levels. At long last, policy makers are just starting to see that a traumatic experience affects us well beyond the cessation of a rape, or the healing of a stab wound. Memories affect brain chemistry and our abilities to remember and react to current events. The traumatic event may be in our past, but we are finally realizing as a culture that it still affects our here and now.

Veteran’s Courts

Some legal jurisdictions in the USA are showing the maturation of their legal thought by allowing for Veteran’s Courts. Rigorous conditions have to be met for these courts to be allowed to function. They are not a free ride out of one’s responsibility for a criminal act. But they allow the court to consider the special circumstances that trauma and PTSD played in the criminal act. In other words, they take on a Jesuit, Catholic, value of Caring for the Whole Person, also known as “Cura Personalis.” You can find a nice definition of “Cura Personalis” on the Creighton University website.This applies to both the offender and the people he or she offended against. I won’t go over all the terms and conditions of what a Veteran’s Court is. You can read the fine article on Veteran’s Courts by Erica Goodie by clicking on the link.

I doubt we will soon start factoring PTSD and trauma into civilian cases. But a new paradigm that cares for the whole person, that recognizes we all have inherent dignity as the children of God, that seeks out the whole truth on not only what happened but why it happened is developing in these courts.

It may not happen real soon, but we may see some trickle down into the general civilian population of caring about why something happened and not just what happened. We may see a development, a maturity, in our law codes to care for the whole person, and seek healing for both victims and offenders. This new, humane, direction in the exercise of the law may provide us with a law code that seeks dignity, healing, and justice, for all parties.  Some of those seeds are starting to grow here in the Veteran’s Courts.

Anecdotally, many judges and prosecuting attorneys seem to scoff that PTSD could be a mitigating circumstance to better understand a crime. Yet, in the last twelve months I have been asked to provide “expert advice” to defense attorneys about how PTSD wounds the soul and how it can lead to the committing of a crime. My viewpoints on PTSD soul wounds and the spiritual dimensions of this affliction and how it damages relationships do not seem to have been seriously considered by the various judges involved.  So it goes, it is not all about me.

Yet, I am heartened that my views on PTSD were even solicited or heard by an attorney. That is new. That is a sign of hope that America will simply not flush away those who are afflicted with PTSD.  It is a sign that one day we will look to heal and not just lock away.

This is the time when someone will accuse me of saying that criminals should not be punished. No, society should punish criminals. But let us also heal criminals and victims. Let us seek to keep crimes from reoccurring. Let us better understand what factors may have caused a crime to occur. A better understanding of PTSD and providing opportunities for healing and treatment may actually lower the chance for a crime to occur.

If Jesus can forgive, can seek to understand why people sin, then so can we.

The signs are that PTSD is starting to be more fully considered by the courts. They are not using it to allow criminals to just walk free, but to better understand why a crime was committed and how to prevent future crimes from occurring. They are starting to better understand PTSD so that healing may occur.

The better courts understand PTSD, then the better we will understand the nature of crime and victimization. We will better protect society and we will help both victims and perpetrators to heal.

War and Trauma Still Stinks

None of what I have written is meant to be taken as an endorsement for war. I would much prefer that we learn how to heal and live meaningful lives without the catalyst of war.  War generates more harm than good.  But, I do try to find any positive outcomes where I can, no matter how small they may be.  Even if the positive outcome is small, we can still study and nurture it so we can create wider healing without the violence of military conflict.  But given that we have wars, we should seek whatever good we can find that is strewn in their wake.

It Would Be Better If…

It would be better if so many American servicewomen were not raped by other soldiers and leaders in their units. But we better understand how to treat rape because of it. Click this link for the Time Magazine reporting on raping American women by American soldiers.   Click here for the problem of American women being raped by American soldiers for an article by News Junkie Post.

It would be better if we gave our troops proper body armor so they lost fewer limbs. I know this would mean raising taxes to pay for better equipment, but I think the lives of our servicemen and women are worth it.   In the meantime, when they lose a limb, let us learn from it and hopefully help others who have lost limbs.

When women fear their men less and feel safe enough to vote, go to school, or see a doctor, well, that has positive value, even if it was not the initial aim of the military operation. Let us keep faith with these vulnerable girls and women, we should protect them and help these girls and women to learn to read, see doctors, and enjoy their existence as a human being.

Sacrificing Other People’s Children

War and Trauma indeed do stink. It often appears that the people who most loudly advocate for war are usually the ones least likely to have served in the military or have immediate family members in the military

Start Political PTSD Comment: I remember when Mitt Romney, who is yet again trying to be elected President of the United States, said the US should inflict “…a bombardment of some kind…” on Iran. What a naive moron. What is  of “some kind”? No policy connected to that statement? No goals? No recognition of all the people who will be maimed and killed including the collateral damage civilians? No recognition of the Americans he would put at risk on the “bombardment” missions and then the inevitable reprisals?

Mitt’s “…bombardment of some kind…” was just testosterone and machismo from a wanna-be alpha male who owns no personal risk or investment in starting a war.

Mitt kept his kids out of military service, same as he himself legally avoided military service. When his adult sons campaigned in the Midwest for him to be President, Mitt said they were like soldiers serving in Iraq. Tell that to the Gold Star Mothers!! Mitt’s kids don’t risk PTSD, TBI, rape, or amputation because they campaigned for Dear Old Dad.

Why am I so incensed about this? This is a meaningful topic for those of us who try and clean up the mess people like Mitt create. I know, and you may also, way too many service members, veterans, parents, spouses, girlfriends, and the people left behind from PTSD suicides to think that Mitt Romney is not a smug empty suit who will fail the country and create more PTSD (and ship even more American jobs overseas – see, I have more than one political issue!). Vote for Mitt or Santorum and we will have presidential administrations even less Pro-Life than the current one. End of Political PTSD Comment

Macho Men Eating Our Children

What an ugly image in that line above. But that is what we often get from people who want to start wars but don’t share the personal engagement of them. This cowardice and willingness to sacrifice other people’s children so they can feel macho is an important psychological and theological issue for them to resolve.  But it would be nice if they did not resolve their issues by consuming the lives of your children.

Yet, sometimes there are trickles of benefit that can be more widely applied if the medical and legal industries will allow it.

Take a gander and read the article on PTSD and Veteran’s Courts. Ponder that those who are traumatized are still human beings and need our support and love. It is wrong to just shit can these people 1 and throw them away. We can learn from mistakes and trauma so that others need not suffer unnecessarily.

You Still Have Value

Lastly, if you or someone you love has PTSD, know that it is not hopeless. God loves you.

We experience God not only in our joys, but often as we struggle upon our own personal Crosses.  Too often we are re-crucified by those who think compassion is too high of a price to pay for our wounds.  PTSD is a hard journey.  For many of us it is a lifetime’s journey of pain and anguish, sometimes punctuated with joy and learning.  PTSD is not a hopeless death sentence.  We learn that we have value.  As we learn to stay alive we can help others stay alive and help a nation live up to its rhetoric and truly value life as sacred.  Your inidvidual life is sacred.

Stay Alive. Your Life Has Value. It Always Has, It Always Will.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Sorry Dr. Z, But I don’t think it is possible to have a less pro-life administration than the one currently occupying the white house.

    • Hi Becky, I certainly respect your viewpoint. I knew that there would be some disagreement when I wrote it. In the meantime, I hope that each of the three politicians referenced can come to appreciate Life, its Sacredness, and not blithely talk about sending other people’s children to do their fighting or initiating “a bombardment of some kind” in order to appear strong and macho. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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