On Tuesday, the state of Georgia is scheduled to execute Andrew Brannan, a Vietnam veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a fellow Vietnam vet with my own hellish war experience and post-war readjustment, when I hear Brannan's story, I can only think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
I have worked continuously with veterans and their families since 1976, which is more than three years before PTSD was included in the DSM-3. I am an advisor to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and, I am a member of the National Veterans Legal Services Program's Board of Directors.
I also spent more than sixteen months in Vietnam as a combat medic, during which time I became a totally changed person. From a one-time altar boy and choirboy, less than two years after returning from Vietnam, I was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After three years and four months in prison and after earning a BA in Psychology, I was paroled and went on to a lifetime of service to veteran communities.
Since 1979, we've learned a great deal about the catastrophic impact of war and PTSD on ordinary people like me and Andrew Brannan. Today, dozens of veterans' courts have been created across the U.S., to help veterans with issues like PTSD get the assistance they need and thereby avoid more serious problems and deeper entanglement in the criminal-justice system. There are countless state, local, religious, private and federal programs available to Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.
Society has also become more educated on the issue. Almost everyone these days has some understanding of PTSD, its causes and effects. A great many veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have truly avoided prison and death sentences, etc., because, in part, the courts and juries can bring a greater understanding of, and sympathy for, veterans with PTSD.
And yet, there's still more to be done. Even with everything we've learned from traumatized WWII, Korean War and Vietnam Veterans, we have reduced but have not eliminated mentally ill veterans from committing crimes related to their PTSD. In other cases, veterans turn the anger and depression inward: An astounding 22 veterans die by suicide every single day in the United States. In most cases, PTSD and other service-connected disabilities play a dominant role.
I have read the court documents, I have watched the dash-cam video, read the appeals and dozens of articles about Andrew Brannan and the murder of Deputy Sheriff Kyle Dinkheller. Speaking from decades of personal and professional experience with veterans' mental health issues, I believe Mr. Brannan has SERVICE-connected PTSD that is connected to his poor mental health and his crime. From what I've read, it seems that his trial lawyer apparently failed to fully present PTSD and mitigating circumstances that could've avoided the sentence of death.
This weekend, I wrote to the parole board on Brannan's behalf to plead with them to spare the life of a man who not only has chronic PTSD but at the time of his uncharacteristic crime was off his medications.
Andrew Brannan is certified as a 100% Service-Connected Disabled Veteran, which means his disability is caused by his
traumatic experiences in war. Mr. Brannan's problems are not due to
alcohol or drug abuse. The record shows just the opposite--that if Brannan was a
draft dodger or had otherwise avoided serving in Vietnam, he would not have
been traumatized and Deputy Sheriff Dinkheller would be alive today.
With great sympathy for Sheriff Dinkheller's family and the families of all victims, we owe it to Mr. Brannan and all those who've served our country to show mercy and to commute his death sentence to life in prison.
(Article changed on January 15, 2015 at 08:23)