Court Case Sheds Light on PTSD Defense

More than 170,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD

A recent case involving an El Cajon man is bringing to light how some veterans accused of committing crimes are using Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as part of their defense.

"I want everybody to understand...he's not the monster that you guys are making him out to be," said the mother of Phillip Rich, an Iraq veteran accused of beating his puppy so badly it had to be put to sleep.   

This San Diego case is one example of a growing number of criminal cases where PTSD is being used as a defense.

To date, more than 170,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD. Futhermore, San Diego is home to the largest number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the country.

"PTSD doesn't make someone kill a puppy or a human or anything like that," said Dr. Sonya Norman, who works with veterans who are PTSD patients.

Norman says that some people with PTSD do have symptoms of anger and irritability, but that acting out aggressively is the exception, not the rule.

Dr. Norman added that in violent cases like that of Phillip Rich , PTSD could be a part of a more complicated picture that involves other psychiatric disorders and sometimes drugs and alcohol.

"A lot of those sort of very sensational stories that make the media, as soon as I hear them I know that there's a lot more than PTSD going on," Norman said.

About 30,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolled in the San Diego VA. Of those, around 30 percent screen positive for PTSD.

"When you put the numbers together you realize there's a whole lot of people out there with PTSD who are struggling quietly, doing their treatment and getting better and that's the norm," Norman said.

Dr. Norman said the VA has some very effective treatments for PTSD and other stress disorders and that some patients can be treated in as little as twelve weeks.

Lea Sutton covers stories involving San Diego's military community. Send her your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.
Find more of her stories in our special military section.

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