Oklahoma can consider PTSD in sentencing veterans under proposed law

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - An Oklahoma bill that allows judges to take into consideration a diagnosis of PTSD for veterans unanimously passed the state Senate on Tuesday, adding to a series of U.S. laws seeking to address mental illness among military veterans.

Oklahoma House Bill 2595 allows judges to take into account a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mitigating factor when sentencing veterans who have been diagnosed with the illness.

The bill, which now goes to the governor for a decision on approval, follows similar measures in states including Alaska and California.

“This is neither a Democratic or Republican issue, but just something we should have for veterans,” said state Representative Richard Morrissette, a sponsor of the legislation and a Democrat in the Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature.

“We train men and women to defend our nation in combat and then we expect, upon their return to civilian life, the trauma experienced by these individuals to be erased from their psyche. That is an unreasonable and unfair expectation,” he said.

State data shows that compared to other states, Oklahoma has a higher percentage of veterans who have been deployed in danger areas overseas. More than 63 percent of the Oklahoma National Guard was deployed as of 2014 to Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than a third were deployed multiple times, the data showed.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the United States had 161 bills that dealt with PTSD in 2014 and 43 traumatic stress, non-PTSD bills.

In 2014, California allowed courts to consider PTSD, sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury or mental health problems as a mitigating factor in granting probation and treatment instead of jail time, it said.

In 2014, Alaska passed the first law allowing judges to consider PTSD as a mitigating factor during the sentencing of veterans, it said.

Reporting by Heide Brandes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chris Reese