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Sgt. Robert Bales: Defense team begins building case on PTSD

In the killing of 16 Afghan villagers, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' defense team may build their case on post traumatic stress disorder. Though PTSD can be connected to aberrant and violent behavior, it's a hard case to make in court.

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Repeated overseas deployments can add to the stress of military life. Bales and his family reportedly were not happy with his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan after he had already had three combat tours. On her blog (since removed from the Internet), Mrs. Bales wrote of their disappointment when Sgt. Bales was not promoted to sergeant first class. The family home apparently was under water – on the market now for $50,000 less than they had paid for it in 2006.

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Home and family difficulties do not excuse aberrant and violent behavior, of course, and PTSD can be a difficult basis for defense in criminal cases.

While PTSD can be significant in sentencing, “it's an uphill battle in the military and civilian court," defense attorney and retired Marine colonel Bruce White told Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The Defense Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the uniformed services have increased efforts to understand, detect, and treat the symptoms of what VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (himself twice wounded in Vietnam) has called “the hidden wounds of war.” But controversy remains with some GIs reporting that their situations are disregarded or dismissed.

US Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington recently reported that 285 patients at the Madigan Army Medical Center on JBLM had their PTSD diagnoses rejected. Many soldiers who might have been able to retire with military compensation benefits complained, prompting a review and investigation. The medical center’s commander was removed during the investigation.

Meanwhile, Bales is expected to be formally charged this week, and his prosecution under military law will be conducted in the United States, a US official told the Associated Press Sunday. Later this week, Bales’ attorneys, plus a military lawyer assigned to defend him, plan to meet with the staff sergeant at the Leavenworth prison.

On Sunday, Bales’ defense team issued this statement:

“The defense team, which includes civilian attorneys John Henry Browne and Emma Scanlan and detailed military defense counsel Major Thomas Hurley plan to spend several days meeting with Staff Sergeant Robert Bales this upcoming week.

“Public reports that Sergeant Bale's supervisors, family and friends describe him as a level-headed, experienced soldier are consistent with information gathered by the defense team. It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bale's medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses.

“Sergeant Bales family is stunned in the face of this tragedy but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services.”

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