DPIC Releases New Report, "Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty"

On November 10, on the eve of Veterans' Day, the Death Penalty Information Center released a new report, Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty. The report examines the plight of U.S. military veterans who have been sentenced to death, estimating that about 300 veterans are currently on death row. Many of these veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental disabilities caused or exacerbated by their time in combat. Often when these veterans were on trial facing the death penalty, their military service and related illnesses were barely presented to the jury. The first person executed in 2015, Andrew Brannan, was a decorated Vietnam veteran with PTSD, who had been granted 100% disability by the Veterans Administration. His combat trauma was largely unexplored at trial, and the Georgia Pardons Board denied him clemency. DPIC's press release noted: "As the country prepares to honor its military veterans on November 11, it may be a sobering and surprising revelation that many veterans have been adjudged as 'the worst of the worst,' condemned to death, and executed by the government they once served." The report urges more attention be paid to veterans facing execution: "Early intervention, peer assistance from veterans, and involvement of veteran officials with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges could all be instrumental in steering a case away from the death penalty," the report states.

Robert Dunham, Executive Director of DPIC, commented about the report, “At a time in which the death penalty is being imposed less and less, it is disturbing that so many veterans who were mentally and emotionally scarred while serving their country are now facing execution. It is our hope that a better understanding of the extreme and long-lasting effects of trauma and the resulting disabilities many veterans have experienced will lead to a larger conversation about imposing capital punishment on trauma survivors and other people with severe mental illnesses.”

(R. Dieter, "Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty," DPIC, posted November 10, 2015). See graphics and read the Executive Summary, Full Report, and Press Release. See other DPIC reports and Mental Illness.