Understanding PTSD and TBI Among Military Veterans Involved in Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice System

Published by Rich Hudzinski on

Equal Justice for All Veterans Needed

A decision to take action has emerged from our state senate which might be a game-changer for more than a few military veterans who encounter our commonwealth’s criminal justice system. The unified judicial system has been hardly that when it comes to the administration of justice to veterans. The track record in uniformly establishing Veterans Treatment Courts statewide, an effort begun 2009, is but one example. The irony is many judges and district attorneys do care about veterans, and a few are veterans themselves.

The Senate’s passage of Senate Resolution 196 is a landmark step forward in reviewing how the unified judicial system performs and might  improve in its handling of “justice-involved” veterans. The measure was supported by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, and others. And it was introduced by one of our own Lehigh Valley state senators, Sen. Jarrett Coleman (R-16). He and his staff are to be applauded.

In his own words, “Many of our veterans suffered traumas during their years of service, and those experiences cause wounds that can benefit from treatment. Regardless of how a military veteran landed in the criminal justice system, we have a responsibility to provide treatment for the trauma they experienced while serving our nation.”

Coleman’s Senate Resolution 196 directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to study whether or not military veterans in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma or traumatic brain injury (TBI) are being actively and adequately treated. Coleman specifically wants to know about PTSD, TBI and other trauma-based treatments among veterans because their military service have made them susceptible to these conditions. The study will also help to determine if identification of veterans and their assessment for the above conditions prior to sentencing needs to be mandated.

The resolution calls on the commission to report back to the Senate by mid-September 2025; and to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and the Office of Attorney General to ensure a comprehensive report.

LVMAC, the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council, and the PA State Council, VVA, Inc. have supported this effort.  It is their earnest desire to see all veterans appearing before the courts treated equally.  To do that, we believe the judicial system must: (1) positively identify all veterans appearing before it (as the Department of Corrections currently tries to do after the fact), and (2) screen and, if needed, diagnose these veterans for PTSD or TBI prior to sentencing.  After all, recent evidence suggests that those veterans with PTSD are more likely to encounter the criminal justice system than their peers; and that treatment can lead to salvation or reform of the individual — an ancient Pennsylvania notion.  Finally, look at what California’s judicial system already does.  Should we do less?

For more information, contact Leo Knepper , the senator’s Executive Director for the Intergovernmental Operations Committee that he chairs.


17 June 2024