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|| Courts, Veteran Courts, And Civil Liberties | Contents | Index |
| Chapter 4 Veteran Courts |
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And these veterans are dying
Veteran arrests and courts
The road to homelessness often passes through the county jail
The war against veterans
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Tracking veteran mortality
Limitations on the data
How veterans deaths are tabulated
Post traumatic stress disorder
Feminists call it domestic violence, I call it post traumatic stress disorder
Details of manner of death
Suggestions and Conclusions
Veteran are disappearing
Jails as psychiatric hospitals
Time in justice system
Domestic violence over and over again
Fix the problem, not the blame
Community Response Teams
Veteran peer mentors
It is sickening to find an 87-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran with no known priors arrested on a dogmatic charge of domestic violence, i.e., no actual violence was alleged, just two months prior to his death. Yet that is but one example of what is uncovered by this investigation.
Disabled veterans are arrested over and over, often without any charges stated. They find their criminal records make it impossible for them to reintegrate into society after their discharge. Often their marriages disintegrate and their children are taken from them.
The result is too often homelessness and, eventually, death.
By documenting these patterns I hope to effect change so that veterans may live out their lives as productive, independent citizens, a right they have certainly earned.
November 7, 2015 Behaviors characteristic of the aftereffects of severe trauma or injuries make the sufferer subject to the attention of law enforcement. Unfortunately, once in the justice system they tend to be squashed like bugs by overzealous, ideologically-driven prosecutors and Star Chamber courts. Even behaviors once considered normal can now result in a criminal conviction that makes it virtually impossible for the individual to find a job or live a "normal" life. All too often the result is homelessness and an early death.
It is a tragedy that these "bugs" are all too often our military men and women suffering from the horrors of war. This essay attempts to track what happens to many of them.
At least 2.5 million men and women have been deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Estimates are that somewhere between 250,000 (10%) and 450,000 (18%) of these veterans currently suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Experience from Vietnam and previous wars make it clear those numbers will increase to somewhere between 750,000 (30%) and 1,250,000 (50%) with time. Many also suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the signature wound of these wars. Total wounded in these conflicts probably exceeds 1 million, commonly limbs lost to IEDs. Even without wounds or combat experience it is often difficult for veterans to adapt to civilian life once they are discharged and often left impoverished, unemployed, lacking any decent health benefits, homeless, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, and facing divorce and loss of their children.
All of these factors tend to bring veterans to the attention of law enforcement. And that ignores the additional focus of the Department of Homeland Security in projects like Operation Vigilant Eagle that characterizes veterans as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be "disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war." As a result when police receive calls involving veterans they all-too-frequently respond with SWAT teams and armored vehicles. Usually that panics the veteran and the situation escalates. Add to this the fact that warrants have almost become a thing of the past. In monitoring veteran arrests over the past five years 10% are booked into the county jail without any charges being listed or under the arcane "other chargeable statutes."
Once booked prosecutors then add on, or "stack" the charges against a veteran to force them to accept a plea bargain (plead guilty). Threats, intimidation, lies, and even torture are used if the veteran resists signing his life away. And if the veteran doesn't have close friends or relatives who can or will bail him out of jail, he will be kept there until he either agrees to accept the plea bargain or his case comes on for trial six months or more down the road.
Prosecutorial misfeasance and malfeasance are not limited to the defendant. Story after story has emerged of prosecutors coercing, threatening, and bullying witnesses ("victims") in these cases.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among active-duty military with an average of one per day. The VA estimates that ~22 veterans a day of all ages commit suicide and that estimate is probably far too low. For example, in the case of our county coroner he has no way of knowing the corpus brought to him is a veteran and, of course, not reported as such.
Ofttimes the veterans commit suicide by driving into a tree, bridge abutment, etc., or in some other "accident" that the coroner mislabels either from lack of information or to save the family grief.
Many veterans crawl into a bottle and drink themselves to death or overdose on drugs for escape. There are also many cases of premature deaths in veterans that are linked to the multitude of prescription drugs they are often prescribed. Of particular note are the fatalities associated with both legal and illegal drugs, notably opioids, veterans take for pain and relief from the multiple symptoms of wounds, injuries, PTSD, and TBI.
The death of young veterans by heart attack is a problem that goes far beyond this preliminary study. The problem was reviewed by Rappaport (2012) based on the research of neurologist Fred Baughman, Jr. M.D. Dr. Baughman refers to these cases as Soldiers Dead In Bed and as of September 2014 he has tabulated over 400 such cases. As he notes, this is far from a complete list and the problem continues unabated. Seroquel (an antipsychotic) is the drug most frequently linked to these deaths but other antipsychotic and antidepressants have also been identified in such cases particularly when Paxil (antidepressant) and Klonopin (benzodiazepine) are prescribed and taken together with Seroquel. And the negative effects of these drugs are magnified when dosage is suddenly interrupted, as for example when the veteran is thrown in jail.
Thompson and Bridier (2013) and other studies demonstrate that homeless and marginally housed people have much higher mortality and shorter life expectancy. Veteran arrest data show a clear correlation between repeated arrests and homelessness.
While there are many statistics the outcome for veterans trapped in the justice system is rarely examined. It is also proving remarkably difficult to track down information about the deaths of individual veterans after they have been arrested.
A basic purpose of my study is to determine how well, if at all, veterans are able to reintegrate in to society after contact with the civilian justice system. An objective is to find what might be done to help them through the process and back into a productive life rather than the homelessness and early death that is too often apparent with the current system.
In the period 2008-2010 the Equal Justice Foundation promoted the first veteran court in Colorado and helped with enabling legislation for such courts. However, the veteran court began essentially as a drug court, a mistake, and requires a veteran to plead guilty (accept a plea bargain) before admittance, an even greater mistake as it leaves the veteran with a criminal conviction on their record. Further, the veteran court was established as a pilot project and is not equipped to, nor does it deal with most veterans in our justice system.
In 2008 no one had any idea how many veterans were being arrested, or on what charges in the military bastion of El Paso County, Colorado, where five major bases are located. With some persuasion the sheriff and his staff modified the intake program at the central Criminal Justice Center (CJC) that is used by all police agencies and military bases in the county to ask at the time of booking whether the detainee had ever served in the military.
In mid-2010 the sheriff's office began producing and distributing a daily veteran arrest report via email to interested parties. Tabulation of those daily reports by the Equal Justice Foundation began in mid-July 2010 and currently more than 14,0000 arrests of over 8,500 veterans have been logged. Sadly, of those the veteran court has only dealt with perhaps 300 veterans.
The intent of my study is not only to track how many veterans are arrested and on what charges, but also to determine the effects and outcomes of the arrests for as many veterans as possible by correlating the arrest data with whatever archival data is available from the state courts, county coroner, newspaper reports, Internet searches, and other sources.
The endless wars of the 21 st Century have shown modern battlefield equipment is capable of saving soldiers lives and the actual numbers of fatalities have been comparatively low.
Conversely, the number of physically and mentally wounded veterans, who now survive injuries that would have proved fatal in previous conflicts, has overwhelmed a Veterans Administration (VA) bogged down in bureaucracy, corruption, and incompetence. Compounding the problems, the VA has clearly demonstrated it is quite unprepared to face an onslaught of psychiatric cases added to the large numbers of physically wounded returning from these conflicts.
In her excellent book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars The Untold Story Ann Jones provides a vivid summary (p. 117) of what wives, girlfriends, and family often face when soldiers come home:
"...[A] moody combat soldier just returned from the war and not very well. He is sullen and silent. He isolates himself, locks himself in the bedroom for hours on end, or disappears in the car, sometimes for days. He drinks too much. He drives too fast or too slow down the middle of the road. He explodes. He throws things, punches holes in the walls, smashes dishes, shakes the children. Or he sits on the couch all day, staring at the flat screen TV. He storms out. He storms in. Demands sex. Refuses it. Refuses even the touch of a hand of a wife or child. The kids are too noisy, too wary, too fearful, too clingy. They bring back memories of Iraqi kids and Afghanistan kids, always in the road."
Many will recognize that today all of this behavior constitutes domestic violence and abuse under current laws.
Jones also points out that many wives of active duty military men are often girls barely out of their teens who married not long before their husbands were deployed. So she scarcely knows her soldier/husband, and now she has a baby. Often he was home only long enough to make another baby before being deployed again, and again, and... As the number of tours mount the odds increase that he will break down.
Someone calls the police seeking help. Instead, law enforcement makes the problems infinitely worse.
Divorce often follows a veteran's homecoming, too often accompanied by charges of domestic violence, driving under the influence, shoplifting, and child abuse. In the maelstrom he loses his home and children.
If he is lucky the military will give him a medical discharge. All too often, however, the soldiers erratic behavior will lead to a less than honorable discharge and the loss of all benefits. Even with an honorable discharge the Veterans Administration likely provides little, if any timely and effective help.
First, it is critical to understand that I am not being critical of our county jail or the sheriff and his deputies that run it. They have been wholeheartedly cooperative in this project, provide a separate pod for almost all veterans in the jail at any given time (~150), and do what they can to provide meds and mental health care for inmates. And I have also been impressed with frontline police officers and patrol deputies I have encountered doing this research, many of whom are veterans themselves.
Conversely, I note that the manifestations of veteran's hidden wounds often result in their taking a very hostile and aggressive attitude with these officers, who are simply trying to enforce the laws; however insane those laws may be. That, of course, worsens the veterans position and often makes it impossible for the officer to do anything but arrest them.
There is little question that many, if not most of these veteran arrests strongly correlate with their military service. In many cases it is relatively easy to establish causation as well by simply enumerating the number of combat tours a veteran has made and how many times they've been blown up or wounded. Many times the loss of a limb makes the wounds obvious. However, the trauma is often the result of a sexual assault, explosions, or accident and their wounds are hidden demons lurking in their brains.
The veterans problems begin to multiply after they are booked and move into the "justice" system. Once formally booked into jail prosecution is turned over to the district attorney. Unfortunately, these cases usually end up the hands of a "baby" DA, who commonly is fresh out of law school.
Aside from the fact that I rarely meet any attorney who has the education I would expect of a college sophomore, all too often these assistant district attorneys are feminist ideologues who regard all veterans as "trained killers" who must be imprisoned at least, and destroyed at best.
In any case, however, "baby" DA's don't get promoted if they don't get convictions so there is considerable pressure to quickly get a plea bargain. I am also told that cases lacking merit, that should be dismissed, are taken to trial to provide training in trial procedures for these neophyte prosecutors. Damn the consequences for the veteran, who often faces a lifetime of poverty due to a criminal conviction.
The chances of a veteran learning the truth about what a plea bargain, i.e., conviction, will mean to their future is virtually zero unless they can find and afford an honest, competent attorney. Too often that must be done while they are incarcerated, further limiting their chances for justice.
No consideration appears to be given by the justice system to the fact that a criminal conviction(s) will, in fact, cause lifetime problems. In many cases the veteran becomes virtually unemployable for the rest of their lives except in the most menial or under-the-table positions.
Often they cannot get student loans and lose their military service educational benefits. They cannot rent an apartment and are ineligible for public housing. Frequently they cannot even visit relatives who live in such housing or the whole family will be evicted.
Typically it is impossible for them to obtain any type of professional license and they lose any such license they might already have, e.g., teachers certificate, medical doctor, pilot or commercial drivers license, etc., and they cannot work with hazardous materials or explosives.
Almost always they lose their security clearances and commonly all VA benefits, including medical, and often cannot obtain any other medical insurance. They are subject to state and federal felony charges if they are even around a weapon or ammunition and, obviously, cannot become police or firemen.
To further increase their despair and hopelessness child "protection" services (CPS) may take their children from them. In sum this constitutes a war against veterans.
The probation terms of their conviction (plea bargain) often keep them in El Paso County and they can't go home where they might have family and community support. All too frequently their drivers license has been taken from them yet they must continue to drive to attend probation and court hearings, go to treatment programs, get urine analyses (UA's), get to their job if they are lucky enough to have one, or simply get groceries. When stopped by police they go back to jail for driving under restraint.
A plethora of draconian criminal laws enacted since the Vietnam war lie in wait for veterans. The two most deadly are the War on Drugs and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
There are, of course, many veterans who are undeniably knowingly and intentionally criminal. But often these miscreants learn to game the justice system leaving the war- and accident-damaged veterans to pay the price for our misguided laws and dysfunctional courts.
Colorado, and several other states, have now moved to legalize marijuana. So some, but far from all, of the disastrous consequences of the War on Drugs have been mitigated. However, VAWA and the state laws driven by that ill-conceived legislation is a disaster for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), as well the pain and misery of physical wounds and sexual trauma.
Experience has demonstrated that every manifestation of PTSD, as outlined here, is "domestic violence" under current all-encompassing draconian laws enacted in response to VAWA. And available arrest data make it evident that the problems veterans face under these laws do not decrease with age or distance.
At the end of five years of collecting veteran arrest data what stands out is a progression from PTSD/TBI > Arrest > Conviction > Homelessness > Early Death. Current data suggest that once embarked on this path there is usually no way out.
A basic objective of this study is to try and find ways to get off this road to oblivion that so many veterans are on.
The most negative possible outcome of an arrest is that the veteran dies closely following the most recent one. However, with available data it is not possible to determine directly the impact arrests have on the veteran's mortality, or whether the arrest(s) and the cause of their death, i.e., substance abuse, were simply two sides of the same problem.
The data do allow a time correlation, however. The present tabulation finds 1% of the veterans jailed at least once during the five years of this study have since died. However, ~3% of the veterans who were known to have been admitted to the veteran trauma court died. The sample size is far too small to draw any conclusions but the data do suggest being admitted to the veteran trauma court is not providing sufficient relief from the demons that drive veterans to an early death. It is also likely that those admitted to the veteran court have more severe problems than most veterans and that contributes to their increased mortality.
Ideally, after an arrest a veteran pays the penalty for any crime they may have committed or, in the alternative, they are found innocent or their charges are dismissed. The veteran then returns to a productive civilian life, or to his military unit.
Unfortunately, available data suggests that is all too rarely the case. More than half (54%) of the veterans in this study were first arrested prior to July 2010 and available data, summarized in Table A, suggests that, with the exception of suicides, veterans are in the justice system ±6 years before their demise although the spread is from a few days to some 30 years (Table A). Excluding suicides, 75% of them are known to have multiple arrests.
Accident (Table 1)
Homicide (Table 2)
Natural (Table 3)
Substance abuse (Table 4)
Suicide (Table 5)
Unknown (Table 6)
It is also quite clear that many veterans who have initially adjusted to civilian life later, usually in mid-life, may develop PTSD or effects from an earlier TBI that bring them to the attention of law enforcement even though they may have no, or minimal prior records. Thus, the problems being addressed won't go away for these veterans or for society, as reflected in this preliminary review where the veteran's ages at time of first known arrest range from 18 to 87 and at time of death range from 21 to 87 shortly following their first or latest arrest (Table A).
In order to determine veteran deaths possibly related to their arrest the El Paso County Coroner was contacted in late 2013 and in early 2014 data on all known deaths in the county between 2011 and the end of January 2014 was provided to the Equal Justice Foundation. An initial correlation run in 2014 against the 132 deaths in the coroner's records first provided found 13 veterans who had died within a month to less than two years after their last arrest.
Digital record keeping by the coroner greatly improved during 2013. By April 2015 spreadsheets supplied by the El Paso County Coroner initially contained 9,975 deaths. 1 From those a total of 83 veterans of the ~8,200 arrested at least once between July 2010 and April 2015 were found dead. Given that there must be a time lag between an arrest and a veteran's death this list will certainly grow with time.
Colorado law requires that the county coroner be notified about certain deaths such as a violent or sudden, unexpected demise. In these cases the coroner must then determine the cause and manner of death. Obviously many citizen deaths do not require the coroner's attention, e.g., the citizen died of natural causes resulting from old age, known cancers, etc. However, if the veteran's death is related to their arrest or military service it is quite likely they will die young, i.e., under 50, and of causes that do bring them to the coroner's attention. But clearly veteran deaths are seriously undersampled by this method. 2
The coroner has no direct way to know if a body brought to him is that of a veteran or not. It is only through cross-correlations such as this one that it can be determined whether the corpus may be that of a veteran. But this study only correlates those veterans who have been arrested in El Paso County with the coroner's data. A veteran who dies but has never been arrested in El Paso County, or was only arrested before this study began in July 2010, will not be included in our results.
There is also a limit on available arrest data. The number of arrests for these veterans has presently only been tabulated from July 2010 although 44 (53%) of the 83 veterans who died are known to have been arrested one or more times before this study began.
The manner of death of veterans known to have been arrested and booked into the county jail at least once during the study period has been separated into six categories. Known deaths in each category are summarized in Table A.
The coroner does not use "substance abuse" as a Manner of Death but where it was clear that the cause of death involved drugs or alcohol I've used that in preference to the Coroner's classification as it is known that drugs and alcohol are in common usage by veterans. It is also known that many veterans use drugs deliberately to end their lives so "substance abuse" is commonly a form of suicide. Taken together, substance abuse and suicide form the largest group (35%) of veterans in the study to date.
Where the coroner listed No Data or Pending as the Manner of Death that has been listed here as Unknown. Likely many of those cases will be updated as more data becomes available from the coroner or other sources.
Because I am dependent on archival data provided by the coroner this tabulation should not be regarded as complete and may not be representative. Veterans may have been killed or died while deployed after their arrest, expired in another county or state that we have not tracked, or their death was not investigated by the coroner. Also, their deaths may be related to personal factors only indirectly related to their military service or arrest(s), e.g., divorce, car accident, etc. The article Death of A Soldier examines one such case but there are many others.
If there is a connection between a veteran's death and their arrest then their death must follow the arrest within some reasonable time period. Further, a veteran whose death occurs five or more years after their last arrest would not show in our present compilation.
In the present sample veteran's deaths occurred from just a few days after their last arrest to a maximum of two-and-a-half years. The generally close correlation in time suggests a direct link for many cases. In some instances the veteran's arrest would almost seem to be a cri de coeur for help.
In two decades of observing behaviors associated with post traumatic stress in veterans it is clear that PTSD encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors. These are described in complex terms in DSM V (p. 271-280) that are not always clear as to what constitutes post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To hopefully improve understanding I have tabulated the associated conditions I've witnessed in veterans:
Sleeplessness (probably the most common and the first thing one notices);
Dissociation from actual events and no memory of them is characteristic;
Nightmares often accompanied by kicking and fighting in one's sleep;
Impotence in males;
Irrational anger or irritability accompanied by emotional or violent outbursts;
Anxiety and a need for unconditional control of almost every situation in order to feel safe;
Panic attacks and hyperventilating;
Social withdrawal and fear of crowded places (often will not leave house or go shopping until early morning hours);
Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or remembering (resembles short-term memory loss);
Hypervigilance, often expressed as a fear of crowds and a need to do a reconnaissance before entering an area or building, e.g. WalMart;
Flashbacks to the event(s); and
An exaggerated and often violent startle response.
As the DSM recognizes, there is considerable comorbidity between PTSD and other mental disorders, among them schizophrenia. PTSD may also exacerbate other conditions, e.g., bipolar, depression, anxiety, and is often associated with substance abuse and suicidal ideation.
It is also apparent from the arrest records that behavior characteristic of PTSD may be episodic, disappearing or only mildly present for long periods of time until some event triggers another episode.
The DSM-5 (p. 277) also notes that for older individuals declining health, worsening cognitive functioning, and social isolation may aggravate PTSD symptoms. That is quite apparent in aging veterans.
In her book Legal Abuse Syndrome Dr. Karin Huffer has documented how repeated and prolonged contact with the justice system can itself be a cause of post traumatic stress. Based on her research I assume that any veteran with two or more arrests suffers from PTSD even if no symptoms were present before.
In the present study of veteran mortality it seems reasonable to assume that all the veterans listed suffered from some level of PTSD. No doubt many of them also had traumatic brain injuries as well.
The arrest data make it clear that ofttimes, perhaps predominantly, PTSD experienced within a year or two of the traumatic event(s) may be mild and fade away, only to reoccur, possibly more severely, in the veterans later years.
Injured veteran's behavior is also complicated by the common presence of brain injuries. And brain injuries are known to be associated with early onset of dementia and Alzheimers that also negatively affect the veterans behavior as they grow older.
Since these conditions frequently appear or reappear years, and even decades after the initial trauma with the same, or greater likelihood of bringing the veteran to the attention of law enforcement the standard definition of recidivism is meaningless in many cases. Rather it would appear that in evaluating veteran behavior leading to an arrest we are looking at episodic events occurring at indeterminate intervals.
Research into triggers for these episodes would likely find ways to reduce rearrests and early deaths of veterans. It is also evident that a sample period of just five years is quite inadequate to determine the likely periodicity of these recurring episodes.
While 9% (746 of 8,422) of the veterans arrested during the study period are female only 5 (6%, 2 from substance abuse and 3 cause unknown) have died. No female veteran died from natural causes in this preliminary study.
Veterans are three times more likely to become homeless than the general population (Thompson and Bridier, 2013). Other studies demonstrate that homeless and marginally housed people have much higher mortality and shorter life expectancy. Thus it is to be expected that the death of veterans in this study would commonly be associated with homelessness.
Arrest data provided by the sheriff includes the veteran's address from which it is often, but not always possible to determine the veteran is homeless or staying in a shelter such as the Salvation Army at the time of their arrest. In Table A I have listed the number of veterans who were known to have been homeless at some point before their death.
Available data show that only 12 of the 83 (15%) dead veterans were homeless at some point. However, 5 of the 18 (28%) who died from substance abuse were homeless at some point before their death. It is known from other studies that there is a close correlation between substance abuse and homelessness irrespective of whether they are veterans; so this is not a surprise.
It is certain that this tabulation severely underestimates the number who lacked a stable, permanent residence as many veterans in difficulty stay with friends, relatives, girlfriends, or sleep in their car or camper.
It is also worth noting that none of the suicide cases were known to be homeless before their death. But the significance of these observations awaits further data for support or denial.
There appears to be a consistent relationship between veteran mortality and charges of domestic violence. 30% of all veteran arrests tabulated to date include a charge of domestic violence and 33% of the veterans who later died had at least one DV charge against them. Also, in many cases the veteran died within a few days, or less than a month after their arrest for domestic violence.
It is also of interest to note that no veterans who died from natural causes had been arrested for domestic violence (Table 3). Conversely, 45% of the veterans who committed suicide (Table 5) or died from substance abuse (Table 4) had been charged with domestic violence.
Every manifestation of PTSD is "domestic violence" under current laws. Irrational anger constitutes emotional abuse and harassment. Punching holes in the wall, fighting and kicking in his sleep, the exaggerated startle response that knocks her or one of the kids halfway across the room, breaking dishes or furniture, self medicating with alcohol or drugs so he can sleep but he is a mean drunk, choking her, and on and on all constitute "domestic violence" under current laws.
Feminists, of course, are screaming that we must cage this monster as if cures for PTSD and TBI can be legislated or incarceration will improve the veteran's injuries. In reality the veteran's only real crime is going to war for his country.
Numerous studies demonstrate that rates of female-perpetrated violence are higher than male-perpetrated with current ratios at 28% female-perpetrated versus 22% male-perpetrated with the remainder resulting from mutual combat between the partners. Unfortunately, there is a very high probability that if a male veteran is being abused and the police are called, he is the one who will be arrested and too often falsely convicted.
In my tabulation of arrests for domestic violence roughly half carry no charge of actual interpersonal violence. Demographic studies show at least 40% of these charges are false. The emotional burden a veteran then carries is greatly increased by having been falsely or unjustly accused.
Add to this the fact that in custody disputes or contentious divorces veterans are frequently falsely charged with child or sexual abuse of their children to gain an advantage in court. The veteran's nightmares are then multiplied by child "protective" services, particularly if he has TBI.
There can be little question that the emotional impact of domestic violence charges and the draconian penalties imposed cause a great deal of harm without discernible value or deterrence.
Then there are the many veterans who find they are not the father of the woman's children but the court is requiring them to pay child support, often as the result of a default judgment. And if they don't pay they go to jail. Paternity fraud is a fun and profitable game when the vets away.
The details of each known veteran death are tabulated in six separate tables that are presented as linked PDF files. It is assumed these tables will grow with time and periodically be updated.
The tabulation is limited to (1) veterans who were booked into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC) at least once after June 2010, and (2) later died and ended up in the morgue of the El Paso County Coroner.
Brief preliminary comments are given describing what can reasonably be gleaned from the very limited data currently available.
Veteran deaths by a presumed accident based on the coroner's determination of the manner of death are detailed in Table 1. However, anecdotal evidence is abundant that many veterans commit suicide by running into a bridge abutment or tree at high speed, drown themselves, etc. Usually that is covered up, often to save the family grief, or the evidence for suicide is uncertain or missing and the manner of death is officially listed as an accident.
In the coroner's tabulation the manner of death of a number of veterans was listed as "accidental" when the cause of death was actually found to be a drug overdose or similar substance abuse. In those cases I have taken the liberty of listing them under substance abuse in Table 4 instead.
Those veterans known to have been murdered after being arrested are listed in Table 2, Based on Uniform Crime Report statistics the murder rate in Colorado Springs in 2012 was 4.2 per 100,000 residents. There are an estimated 80,000 veterans in El Paso County suggesting about 3.4 veterans per year are murdered here, or over the four year sampling period (2011-2014) about 14 veterans would have been murdered. However, the coroner's data only lists 7 (Table 2) for this period. But in 2014 there were 3 veteran homicides, close to the predicted rate.
Veterans whose death was caused by homicide are the youngest set of victims in the present sample with ages ranging from 27 to 47 (Table A).
Again, the sample size is very small but current data do suggest a number of veteran deaths by homicide have been missed.
Veterans who died of natural causes are tabulated in Table 3. One thing that stands out in this tabulation is that none of veterans who died a natural death had been charged with domestic violence. Also, on average they lived longer, with an age range at time of death of 50 to 72 years (Table A).
It should be understood that many who die from natural causes are not examined by the coroner. So this list is incomplete.
When the pain and agony gets to be too much to bear veterans seek any escape possible. Those known to have died from substance abuse are listed in Table 4.
Heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine were drugs of choice. Others crawled into a bottle and eventually died from chronic alcoholism or alcohol poisoning.
I regard a death resulting from substance abuse as basically a suicide.
Suicide is often used as an escape from whatever demons possessed these veterans. They are listed in Table 5.
It is to be hoped that earlier and more effective interventions can be found for veterans like these rather than destroying their lives with charges of domestic violence that are clearly a result of their hidden injuries and the current policy of "catch, convict, and release" practiced by the justice system.
Veterans who died from presently unknown causes are listed in Table 6. Improvements in record keeping by the county coroner will likely reduce the number of unknown fatalities in the future.
The questions are why, how, and where? It has proven quite difficult to track and tabulate veteran deaths even though there seems to be little question many of them are dying.
One of the first problems encountered is establishing a body is that of a veteran, something our coroner has no way of doing on a regular basis. Further, news reports only occasionally state whether fatalities have resulted in the death of a veteran. And many, if not most veterans return home after their discharge if they are able, a wise move given the treatment veterans receive in our judicial district. When they die there it is quite unlikely notice will filter back here except by accident.
Many veterans just want to be left alone and disappear into the backwoods, or they become expatriates moving to Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, etc. Of course the deaths of those men go unrecorded except perhaps in some government tomes I have not yet found a way to cross correlate with.
The basic purpose of a justice system is to deliver justice for all by convicting and punishing the guilty after a crime has been committed. The law and the threat of punishment are aimed at deterring criminal acts and thereby protecting the innocent. Criminal law once was, and should again be reactive.
Realistically, justice is only attainable if there are a limited number of easily understood mala in se criminal laws. But sometime around the 1970's legislatures adopted get tough on crime attitudes and passed innumerable mala prohibita laws, of which the 1971 War on Drugs is the type example. The situation was exacerbated in 1994 by passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that micromanages intimate relations much to the detriment of veterans, their families, and civilization.
The vast majority of crimes today are mala prohibita. Congress, states, cities, local municipalities and districts all have, and abuse the ability to enact statutes, regulations, and ordinances with the presumed intent to create a society that reflects the biases, bigotry, ideology and religion of each individual body.
The result was police agencies that ballooned in size and number. The once effective peace officer/public safety model was abandoned. Police became law enforcement agents of the government and the policing model became arrest and incarcerate.
Logic, reason, and, of course, the ability to enforce all of these laws equally and equitably has gone by the board. And the immense corpus of all these laws and regulations make them unknowable even to judges, lawyers, and academics. And pity the poor policeman trying to enforce them against a citizenry that hasn't the faintest idea these statutes even exist.
The situation was made infinitely worse by the passage of mandatory arrest and sentencing laws that caused prison populations to explode (Figure 1). Today the United States has the largest prison population of any country in the history of the world.
Unfortunately, the explosion of mala prohibita laws in the 1970s followed, or perhaps was caused to a large extent by shuttering most of the psychiatric hospitals in the United States.
Beginning around 1950 a number of antipsychotic drugs were developed that allowed many mentally-ill patients formerly under care in long-term mental health hospitals to be treated on an outpatient basis. By 1970 there was a widespread movement to deinstutionalize most mental health patients initiated by three factors:
A socio-political movement for community mental health services and open hospitals;
The availability of psychotropic drugs able to manage many psychotic episodes;
Financial imperatives to shift costs from state to federal budgets.
With Social Security Insurance (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSDI) payments it was possible to release many patients from mental health hospitals and move them into private or group homes and allow them to nominally live independently with the use of these drugs.
The patient population of mental health hospitals in 1955 was estimated at 560,000 and according to the Treatment Advocacy Center there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. By 1977 it is estimated the mental health patient population in hospitals had fallen to 160,000 and many of the facilities caring for the mentally ill were closed, often due to government budget cuts.
It is now extremely difficult to find a bed for a seriously mentally-ill person who needs to be hospitalized. By 2005 there was just one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans. Even worse, the majority of the existing beds are filled with court-ordered (forensic) cases and thus not really available.
While deinstutionalization worked for many of the mentally ill, many others ended up homeless and indigent. The erratic behavior of these men and women naturally brought them to the attention of law enforcement officers and, lacking mental health facilities, they were incarcerated in jails around the country. As more humane and cost-effective methods of treating mental illness have disappeared, jails have become, in effect, psychiatric hospitals.
Nicholas Kristof, in a February 8, 2014, article reviewed the overall situation, noting that:
"More than half of prisoners in the United States have a mental health problem, according to a 2006 Justice Department study. Among female inmates, almost three-quarters have a mental disorder."
Kristof goes on to note that we have again criminalized mental illness and that the system is abhorrent and senseless, as well as an astronomically expensive way to treat mental illness. He notes that more than three times as many mentally ill people are housed in prisons and jails as in hospitals.
However, a sheriff has no choice but to accept and incarcerate men and women suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and other psychotic disorders delivered by local police forces. Worse, if possible, incarceration often results in a loss of essential drugs for the prisoners.
An average of ~150 veterans are incarcerated in the El Paso county jail on a given day. While some percentage of these veterans are there for knowingly, purposefully, or recklessly (mens rea) committing mala in se criminal acts, it is quite evident the great majority of these veterans are incarcerated for minor mala prohibita crimes that are plainly the result of mental illnesses and injuries resulting from their military service.
Clearly the endless imperial wars of the 21 st Century and the millions of wounded resulting from these fruitless and ill-advised conflicts has resulted in a disastrous trap for veterans attempting to reintegrate into a society they scarcely recognize and are often ill-fitted for.
Almost from the beginning of this study in 2010 it was obvious that once a veteran got caught up in our "justice" system that it was virtually impossible for them to get out alive. Of those who have since died, and are tabulated here, some 45 (54%) of the 83 were first booked into our county jail before July 2010. Fifteen (18%) of them were first booked into the CJC in the 1980's, or some 30 years ago, and were still being jailed periodically during the study period before their death.
The evidence is plain that once a veteran is arrested, booked, and convicted (plea bargain), or what I term "catch, convict, and release," that there is very little chance they will be able to integrate back into society as a productive citizen, and a very high probability that they will be repeatedly rearrested if they remain in or visit El Paso County. One veteran, who is currently in the local Veteran Trauma Court, is known to have been booked and jailed nineteen (19) times in the five years of this study. Many others have been booked 10, 12, 14 times. In one case the veteran had been arrested for drunk driving six (6) times in less than two years. It may be safely assumed he drove drunk many more times than he was caught and that, sooner or later, he and/or someone else will die.
If public safety is of any importance at all some of these veterans need to be removed from society, either to state prison or, more desirably, to long-term mental health care for the good of both society and themselves.
It seems self evident that one of the best chances a veteran has of reintegrating into civilian society is if they have a stable, supportive family and community. But the ideological goal of feminism is to destroy families and laws like VAWA support that goal. And it is sickening to find an 87-year-old World War II and Korean War veteran with no known priors arrested on a dogmatic charge of domestic violence, i.e., no actual violence was alleged, just two months prior to his death. The man needed help, not incarceration and criminal charges. But medical and aging problems don't exist in the black-and-white illusions of what feminists call "domestic violence."
Episodes of PTSD, TBI, and other mental disorders are scary and the wife, girlfriend, or other family members or neighbors need help. And when help is needed it is natural to turn to the police by dialing 911. But police today are law enforcement officers, not peace officers. So the already traumatized veteran is arrested, jailed, and criminal charges filed against him just as though destroying his family, marriage, and children would correct his mental and physical injuries and deter future episodes.
He is put through an ideological rain dance of a coerced plea bargain, a treatment program that has little or no relation to his injuries or reality, and given a restraining order designed to make his problems worse.
Despite the court order, commonly the veteran simply moves back home after a DV arrest as the woman called for help, not an arrest.
Alternatively, she can be using DV or sexual abuse charges to gain an advantage in a divorce or child custody dispute.
In either case the penalties leave the veteran little more than a dead man walking. More arrests and he loses his kids. And, as in this preliminary study, the demise of many veterans follows (see summary in Table A).
At this point is it really necessary to establish that arrest, incarceration, and a criminal conviction are contraindicated for hidden wounds like traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post traumatic stress?
The first problem in dealing with veterans is to sort out the criminals from the bona fide wounded warriors. Corry and Stockburger (2013, p. 85-87) have put forward a method of triage that applies after arrest and booking.
One method that offers promise is being developed by the Colorado Springs Fire and Police Department. What they are developing are Community Response Teams (CRT, or Mobile Mental Health Units). These teams were created in December 2014 to try and fix a previously inefficient system and to help mental health patients where emergency services (911) have been requested.
The teams are composed of a nurse with the fire department, a police officer, and a clinical social worker experienced in dealing with mentally-disturbed individuals. Examples of the CRT work cited include checking on a combat veteran suspected of being suicidal and talking him off of an apartment complex roof.
In practice I am told the police would respond to the 911 call to stabilize the situation. When officers recognize the problem involves mental health problems, e.g., a veteran undergoing a PTSD episode, the CRT would be called to deal with the issues. Unfortunately, at present the officer usually calls for a SWAT team, which often makes the problems worse.
Unless there is danger to the team the police could leave and the team would address the mental and medical health needs on scene and then, if needed, transport the individual to a treatment facility, e.g., detox for drug and alcohol problems or a mental health facility.
In many, hopefully most such cases no charges would be filed and the veteran would not be jailed, although they would be detained in the detox or mental health facility until stabilized.
The El Paso County Sheriff, the Colorado Springs Chief of Police, and the Community & Public Health Administrator for the city Fire Department have all expressed interest in expanding this program to cover the entire county, a project I heartily endorse.
There are many situations in which the law or the situation leave the frontline officer no options but to make an arrest. However, upon review not all elements of mens rea and actus reus may not be present in order to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as required for a criminal conviction. In good conscience the district attorney should then dismiss or nolle prosequi the case. Or the case may go to trial but the veteran is acquitted.
However, with many veterans it is clear from the circumstances of their arrest(s) and their military and medical history that they need help. Currently they are simply pushed back out on to the street to fend for themselves as best they can when their case is dismissed.
Further, in many cases where evidence suggests a veteran may be guilty of the crimes alleged it is not in the interest of justice to simply prosecute and incarcerate them or, more commonly, sentence them to probation and push them back out on to the street. The "catch, convict, and release" scenario so commonly observed that often leaves a veteran with few options but more crime.
In 2013 the Colorado legislature devised a system of pretrial diversion, C.R.S. § 18-1.3-101, in an attempt to:
"...facilitate and encourage diversion of defendants from the criminal justice system when diversion may prevent defendants from committing additional criminal acts, restore victims of crime, facilitate the defendant's ability to pay restitution to victims of crime, and reduce the number of cases in the criminal justice system. Diversion should ensure defendant accountability while allowing defendants to avoid the collateral consequences associated with criminal charges and convictions."
In discussing the possible implementation of this statute in veteran cases with our district attorney it is clear that some tuning of the law is needed. But it is evident that after an arrest this statute would give him and the court the authority to supervise a wounded warrior and use probation for oversight while the veteran is treated. Presuming the veteran (1) successfully complies with the treatment program, (2) makes any applicable restitution, and (3) is judged to not present a further threat to society as a result; criminal charges against him would be dismissed.
The stigma of a criminal conviction would thus be avoided while the veteran's condition could be addressed.
Given the plain evidence of the criminogenic nature of the present system of "catch, convict, and release" such an approach would be a distinct improvement.
The present Veteran Trauma Court has used veteran peer mentors to help veterans in the justice system deal with their problems on a vet-to-vet level from the beginning. Unfortunately far more peer mentors are needed. This program is also underfunded and most peer mentors work on a strictly volunteer basis.
With its tens-of-thousands of veterans El Paso County might easily expand this program at modest cost. If at least reimbursed for expenses peer mentors could address many of the problems wounded warriors have. Wives, girlfriends, family, or friends could call on the peer mentor for minor crises and before the veteran starts acting out and a full-blown episode explodes.
Veteran peer mentors can also perform welfare checks vet-to-vet without the response of irrational anger police often encounter. The memory problems suffered by so many veterans can also be helped by simply a phone call from a peer mentor. A multitude of other issues might be addressed by expanded use of veteran peer mentors, who are often in a better position to understand what the wounded warrior is going through than any civilian professional.
Like any battle buddy, when the situation deteriorates the peer mentor can act as a mediator and advocate to get the veteran the treatment they need rather than the present practice of arresting and incarcerating them.
Veteran peer mentors are a lot less expensive than hiring more and more police and building more and larger jails.
From my observations it seems that modern technology is grossly underused by the justice system. At least in part this is institutional bias where passing a law is presumed to fix the problem, and if the citizens don't obey then they are arrested and jailed.
With mala in se criminal laws and police working as peace officers to maintain public safety, that model was reasonably effective. But it fails miserably today as government increasingly micromanages our personal lives.
In advocating for the use of additional technology by the justice system one treads an increasingly narrow line between the compelling interests of society and the illegal abridgment of civil liberties. However, much good could be derived, and public safety enhanced by technological approaches beyond NSA collecting our email messages and monitoring our phone calls.
For example, legislatures keep increasing the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol, an acknowledged issue of public safety. But veterans keep driving drunk, keep getting arrested for it over and over, and too often killing or injuring others. The "law" is little deterrent in many such cases but there are effective technical methods to stop drunk driving.
There are now many ignition interlock systems available that make it virtually impossible to start or drive a vehicle if alcohol or various drugs are detected. On average, interlocks cost about $70-150 to install and about $60-80 per month for monitoring and calibration. $60-$80 is about the cost to the government of a day in jail and more than the cost to the veteran of lost time at work, or the loss of their job. Yet veteran arrest records show them being arrested numerous times for DUI but apparently no ignition interlock requirement. If cost is an issue for the veteran then it would definitely be cheaper for society to pay for the interlock rather than the jail and court costs of repeatedly arresting and trying him. It would also enable the veteran to continue their auto insurance. That would certainly enhance public safety far beyond the current "catch, convict, release" policy.
SCRAM variants of ankle monitors can also measure alcohol use and may be of additional use in cases where alcohol is a contributor to an offender's criminal activities beyond simply driving drunk, e.g., intimate partner violence cases where the partners continue to live together.
Unquestionably there are many other ways technology can be used to deter or limit criminal activity. Reports such as this one are but one way the data can be used to understand patterns and make predictions. But most effective of all would be to reduce the number of criminal statutes by about two orders of magnitude so that they might be known and understood by all, and obeyed by most.
In comparison the secret lists, e.g., no fly lists, now kept by multiple government agencies do very little for public safety, particularly given their enormous costs and gross infringements on civil liberties.
Law enforcement is, at best, a secondary line of defense for a citizen. As the saying goes, a gun in hand is better than a cop on the phone. So the best road to public safety is not more laws, more police, more courts, more jails, more..., but an informed and armed citizenry capable of defending itself against most offenses.
For example, rather than depend on police catching a drunk driver, or picking up the pieces after a wreck, the use of portable breathalyzers by individuals should be encouraged so that veterans as well as citizens might test themselves before driving.
Home protection systems have made incredible advances of late, particularly when combined with smart phones. And in cases where women attack men a video or audio recording is quite useful.
It is also fairly easy to block harassing phone calls today. If one is using a smart phone there are numerous apps that identify or block callers. Harassing or threatening calls probably require more extensive steps. Note that if you use Call Trace, *57 you will be charged a fee for each trace and the results of the trace are only available to the police and phone company. My personal experience with that feature is that it is a waste of time and money but should not be ignored in criminal cases.
Pamphlets explaining what to expect with wounded and combat veterans would be very helpful. The EJF provides a Handbook For A New Military Spouse originally published by the 101 st Airborne that is downloaded from our site over 4,000 times a month. It beggars the imagination how many times a handbook for dealing with a wounded military veteran might be used? But one is badly needed and I'd be very happy to help distribute it.
There are many more things citizens might and should do in their own defense but that topic goes far beyond the scope of this essay's attempts to keep veterans alive and out of jail.
It is clear that the present system of "catch, convict, and release" in most cases only makes a veterans life worse and often leads to homelessness. more crime, and an early death. It is also apparent the situation will not be improved or corrected by more laws and arrests.
There can be little question that in many, if not most cases law enforcement and arrests of veterans are criminogenic and public safety endangered by current practices. The path forward appears to demand that police return to acting as peace officers and serving the needs of public safety. That will obviously require reform of criminal statutes.
In the interim individual officers and agencies can take steps to recognize individuals, e.g., veterans, and behaviors characteristic of mental health problems and seek treatment rather than the simplistic approach of an arrest. Toward that end the Community Response Teams currently being developed in El Paso County would be a giant step up.
1. Unidentified human remains and unnamed babies examined by the coroner were removed from the spreadsheets to allow correlation with the arrest data.
2. Note that a correlation between the EPSO veteran arrest data and the coroner's data (and any other data) is entirely dependent on finding matching names and birth dates. In some cases an additional check on sex was used. I also had problems with correlating names with suffixes with the coroner's data and that problem may not have been entirely solved.
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Added December 26, 2015
Last modified 1/11/16