The United States has been aware of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since 1952. However, it has only been a recent development that this understanding has made its way into the Massachusetts criminal court system. In 2012 An Act Relative to Veterans’ Access, Livelihood, Opportunity, and Resources (VALOR Act) was passed into law, and for the first time in Massachusetts veterans were given the opportunity to enter a diversion program as opposed to being arraigned for a number of criminal charges. However, the law became somewhat controversial, as it was looked at by some as a “get out of jail free card” for veterans. Because of this, the law was repealed in April 2018. Luckily, the Commonwealth acted quickly to put a new law on the books to help those veterans that now found themselves without the availability of the VALOR Act when Governor Baker signed An Act Relative to Veterans’ Benefits, Rights, Appreciation, Validation and Enforcement (BRAVE Act) into law in August 2018.
The BRAVE Act allows veterans who have been honorably discharged and diagnosed with a condition such as PTSD as a result of their service to avoid being prosecuted if they have been charged with certain criminal charges. Some of the biggest differences between the VALOR Act and the BRAVE Act is that a veteran must have a diagnosis as a result of their service, certain crimes are excluded from diversion, and they can only utilize the BRAVE Act once.
While the steps involved in utilizing the BRAVE Act tend to differ from court to court, typically they are as follows:
- The veteran requests that the court entertain an evaluation for the BRAVE Act.
- The veteran meets with a specialist at the VA.
- The VA informs the court if the veteran qualifies for the BRAVE Act, and if so, determines a treatment plan.
- The veteran begins treatment and follows the plan for 60 to 90 days.
- The court dismisses the charges based on the veteran’s compliance with the treatment plan.
While these steps seem somewhat uncomplicated, it is important to have an experienced attorney by your side to ensure that the VA and the court are doing what they are required to under the BRAVE Act. This is especially important now that more courts are implementing a specialty court under the name of a “Veterans’ Court.” Veterans’ Court should be treated.
1Andreasen NC (October 2010). “Post-traumatic stress disorder: a history and a critique”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1208 (Psychiatric and Neurologic Aspects of War): 67–71.