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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: September 16, 2016 12:54 PM
From: Representative Mark B. Cohen
To: All House members
Subject: Postconviction Review for Veterans with PTSD or TBI
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would allow inappropriately sentenced veterans with the ability to apply for post-conviction review of their sentence. Eligible veterans would include those suffering from PTSD or TBI incurred while serving their country in a combat zone.

I developed this legislation at the request of one of my constituents, Mr. Larry Holman, who is the past President, PA State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America; past Commander, Department of Pennsylvania, Jewish War Veterans; past President, Pennsylvania War Veterans Council; and past member of the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission. Mr. Holman also serves on the Veterans Advisory Council and the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Services Committee at the VA Medical Center, Philadelphia. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Veterans Justice Project (PVJP) of the Veterans Legal Foundation, which is the organization advocating for change leading to this legislation.

My bill proposes to establish a process for post-conviction relief for veterans incurring PTSD or TBI while serving their country in the military. Currently, a veteran may present these as mitigating factors during the sentencing for a crime. The PVJP is advocating for change that would allow incarcerated veterans diagnosed after imprisonment to apply to the court for relief putting forward their diagnosis of PTSD or TBI as a mitigating factor in the crime for which they were charged. Students from Penn Law working with the PVJP developed a report entitled “The Pennsylvania Justice for Veterans Project, Legal Research Report,” dated Spring 2013, which found:
  • Approximately 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam;
  • Over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended;
  • 500,000 Vietnam veterans have been arrested or incarcerated, with an estimated 100,000 in prison today;
  • 40% of Vietnam veterans are unemployed and another 25% earn less than $7,000 per year;
  • PTSD was not a recognized mental illness until 1980, and research concerning TBIs is in its infancy.
My bill would allow a person convicted of a criminal offense for crimes where TBI or PTSD are alleged to be contributing factors to apply for post-conviction review related to the investigation or prosecution that resulted in the judgment of conviction by making a written motion to the sentencing court for review of the case. I think that we owe it to those veterans serving an inappropriate sentence the opportunity to have a post-conviction review of their case and the ability to enter into evidence their diagnosis of PTSD or TBI as a mitigating circumstance and to have the charges reviewed by the court. We especially owe those vets incarcerated prior to recognition of PTSD or TBI as a mental health disorder this opportunity.

If you have any questions, please contact Kathy Seidl of my office at kseidl@pahouse.net or 7-4117.

Introduced as HB2406