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JUNEAU, ALASKA — The House Special Committee on Military and Veterans’ Affairs moved a bill Thursday allowing judges to consider post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries as a mitigating factor during sentencings of combat veterans.
House Bill 313, sponsored by Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, would allow a state judge to take PTSD and traumatic brain injuries into account as a possibility of a reduced sentence. Sentencing reductions would be on condition of counseling.
The bill mirrors the statute concerning fetal alcohol syndrome and cannot be used as a mitigating factor for crimes involving serious injury, sexual assault or unlawful death.
“Many of our military personnel seem fine when they come back, but there are scars that are hidden,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.
Gara said the reason for limiting PTSD to combat-related veterans was a fear that if the category was widened, there may be a wide range of individuals claiming to have PTSD, but do not.
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, asked why not identify PTSD and other traumatic brain injuries as either a mental disease or defect, which is already covered by statute as a mitigating factor.
“Military personnel don’t see PTSD as a disease or a defect,” Gara said. “They don’t want to be labeled as having a mental defect.”
The Alaska Department of Corrections does not keep track of combat veterans to whom the bill would apply, Deputy Director Laura Brooks said. She did say the department does ask those entering the prison system if they are receiving veterans’ benefits.
Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, said she was concerned that the bill would have a financial impact on the state budget.
Gara told the committee that under the bill, a defendant was responsible for the cost of a defense involving PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.
The bill moves to the House Judiciary Committee.