That was July 2012. Now, two years later, after being found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to eight years in prison, Carlson wonders about the fairness of such a punishment. “I know I did wrong,” he said recently from the detention facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. But is jail time appropriate for someone who, before he fired those shots, spent 16 months in Iraq, followed by 12 months in Iraq, followed by another 12 months in Afghanistan?
Forty months total at war: He had survived a blast from a suicide car bomb. He had killed an Iraqi insurgent as the man’s children watched in horror. He had traded places one day with a fellow soldier who then was killed by a sniper’s bullet, standing in the very place where Carlson would have been if he hadn’t switched. Did his years in combat mean he was deserving of compassion?
Compassion or conviction – that’s the choice more and more communities across the country are facing as the effects of 12 years of war are increasingly seeping into the American legal system.
The vast majority of veterans who have suffered mental wounds in combat do not commit crimes, but post-traumatic stress disorder has been found to increase the risk of criminal behavior, especially when combined with alcohol, family stress or feelings of anger. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who reported problems with PTSD and alcohol were seven times as likely to engage in acts of “severe violence” than veterans with neither of those problems, according to a 2014 study conducted by researchers affiliated with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the Department of Veterans Affairs.