Military Connection: Should War Vets Be Exempt From the Death Penalty?

vet crime

By Debbie Gregory.

Andrew Brannan was a decorated Vietnam War Veteran. He volunteered for military service in 1968 and deployed as a forward observer in an artillery unit. He took command of his unit twice, when his commanding officers were killed. For his efforts, Brannan was awarded the Bronze Star and two Army Commendation medals for outstanding service. But after the war, he struggled to hold his life together.

Brannan suffered from both psychological and emotional problems. He was unable to keep a job and his marriage failed. The Veterans Administration (VA) declared him partially disabled due to service-related post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).

In1998, Brannan was driving his truck at breakneck speeds in Georgia when he was pulled over. Brannan, who was 66 at the time, attacked and killed Deputy Kyle Dinkheller. Brannan received the death sentence and was executed on January 13, 2015.

Joseph Loveland, the attorney who tried to commute Brannan’s sentence to life imprisonment without parole, says the jury and sentencing judge might have determined a different outcome if they had known all of the facts.

“Every doctor who had examined Andrew confirmed that he was suffering for years before the crime from significant PTSD that was directly related to his service in Vietnam…” Loveland said in an interview.

This begs the question: should war Veterans be exempt from the death penalty?

While the Department of Veteran Affairs argues that most veterans suffering from PTSD are not violent, PTSD is a severe mental disorder

According to mental health experts, the risk of criminal behavior isn’t necessarily higher among combat Veterans. But there are those in the legal community who are suggesting the criminal justice system should treat convicted Veterans suffering from PTSD differently.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that executing people with severe mental illness is unconstitutional, many death row inmates suffer from a form of mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and delusions that don’t fall within that exemption.

According to Anthony Giardino, an attorney and former Marine, the ultimate outcome of each case depends on the defense council and on the laws of each state.

It will always be difficult for society and the legal system to truly understand and appreciate what happens to Veterans on the battlefield, and the struggles they face when they come home, unless they’ve walked a mile in those boots.