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Paying the Price for Vietnam: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Conduct

45 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2010  

Peter Erlinder

Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Date Written: 1984


Broadly, this article addresses the legal community's response to and treatment of Vietnam veterans suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The purpose of this article is to add to the growing body of knowledge that is helping to demystify PTSD as a legal/psychological phenomenon. It begins with a brief description of the symptoms characteristic of PTSD and a history of the scientific understanding of the disorder. Next a number of cases in which PTSD has been a factor are reviewed and some solutions to strategic problems posed by PTSD in criminal litigation. The article then discusses the application of PTSD in other contexts, including plea negotiations, sentencing, and post-conviction relief. The article concludes that proper legal representation of veteran clients requires sensitivity to PTSD in issues of client behavior and that the legal system must be allowed to take PTSD into account, where it exists, to resolve adequately the legal issues raised by PTSD-related conduct.

Keywords: Vietnam, Veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, Criminal Defense, PTSD in Litigation, PTSD Violent Behavior, Strategy in PTSD Litigation, Tactics in PTSD Litigation, PTSD Treatment, Military Service, PTSD Legislation

Suggested Citation

Erlinder, Peter, Paying the Price for Vietnam: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Criminal Conduct (1984). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 25, 1984. Available at SSRN:

Peter Erlinder (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

875 Summit Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105-3076
United States
651-290-6384 (Phone)

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