August 1, 2010

PTSD and Incarcerated Veterans

Hello! My name is Jamie Keyes, and I am the mother of an Iraq war veteran who has PTSD and is also in prison due to a PTSD related incident. I really don't know exactly how to start this blog other than to say that my son's service in the military, PTSD and subsequent incarceration has really sent me on a long and painful journey, but given me a new mission in life. That mission being a part of educating our country of the plight of our returning veterans and soldiers, so that the appropriate changes can be made to better support them.

Because of my advocacy and experience with these issues, I have been given many opportunities to reach out to the families of veterans who have PTSD and unfortunately been arrested and thrown into prisons all over this country because of their service to this country. On any given week I receive calls from many desperate family members who's young veterans have come home suffering the unseen wounds of war, fallen through the cracks, and ended up in prison. I have heard all their stories, and despite the different circumstances surrounding the arrests of their loved ones, the stories are all the same. It begins with the soldier who is still in the military. Commanders and those who are supposed to be taking care of their soldiers are not paying attention to the signs of distress or responding appropriately.

There is no seamless transition from the military to the V.A. and many of them are sent out into the civilian world having to fend for themselves. If they do make it to the VA, they are not taken care of in a timely and appropriate manner, and many end up in prison or morgues all over this country. Currently there is no way of telling how many of our current conflict veterans are in jails and prisons all over this country because there are no studies on the numbers, or ways of keeping track of them. I will tell you this. It is at epidemic proportions and the citizens in this country would be shocked if they really knew how many of our young soldiers were incarcerated due to their PTSD.

These young men and women are returning home to families who are clueless about how to recognize the symptoms of combat stress, nor do they know how to respond to and cope with their veteran. There is literally no where for them to turn. PTSD affects the whole family, and we are given a broken used up soldier that we were not told how to take care of. In my case, I pleaded with the VA to listen to me and step up my son's treatment, to no avail. My pleas for help and warnings were ignored. We, the family see what is happening in the day to day lives of our sons and daughters. You would think that listening to the family would be an important part of helping the veteran. But the family is shut out.

Too many times I have heard from an incarcerated veterans family that they begged for help long before their veterans incarceration. What happens when a veteran is convicted of a crime? The first thing that happens is that the VA refuses to help them. All but ten percent of their benefits are taken away, and the VA refuses to treat them at all. This leaves a sick veteran sitting in prison for many years with festering mental wounds that will no doubt get worse as time passes. It costs the states money to incarcerate and serves no purpose other than to return an even sicker veteran back into society later. It also subjects their families to emotional and financial suffering. Haven't we suffered enough? How can we avoid this travesty in the first place? Listen to the families and you will find out.

We don't need millions of dollars in tax payers money to find out why the incarceration and suicide rate is so high in our returning veterans. Number one, there should be more intensive screening for PTSD after deployment. A few questions on a piece of paper simply isn't enough! Seamless and mandatory transition from the military to the VA needs to be in place. Counseling and education should be provided for ALL family members. Veteran's specific crisis intervention should be taught to all law enforcement and first responders, so that they will know how to identify and handle a veteran in crisis, without further aggravating the circumstances. The federal government MUST provide enough funds to provide veteran's courts in EVERY court in this country. This will give our returning veterans special consideration because of their service to this country and unseen wounds.

The courts in this country have no education on PTSD or, in most cases refuse to accept and appreciate what our veterans have been though that lead to their standing before a judge. They must learn and appreciate what these fine young men and women have sacrificed for their country in order to give them the chance that they deserve. Throwing them into prison like common criminals is not the answer, and definitely not what they deserve. The business of sending our soldiers on multiple lengthy deployments is creating high numbers of PTSD. Sending these poor warriors out again and again with a hand full of pills for depression and anxiety is not addressing these issues. It is the same way when they get home. A typical visit to the VA results in the veteran going home with a hand full of prescriptions for anxiety, depression, etc, and another appointment weeks or months later. No medication monitoring is going on, and the opportunity for abuse is huge.

What is happening is we are releasing angry, traumatized, symptomatic zombies out into this world and their issues are not being addressed. For every veteran who falls through the cracks and ends up in prison, there is a whole network of family and friends who also suffer. This epidemic is much more far reaching than most can imagine. Our soldiers have fought for and were willing to die for this country and ask for and given little in return. This simply is NOT acceptable, and we, as Americans, MUST demand that our returning veterans be supported in every way when they return home.

Our warriors should never be treated as criminals. Especially when the wounds that they acquired while serving this country have caused them to intersect with the criminal justice system. Please join me in educating this country about the plight of our incarcerated veterans. We owe it to them to push the changes that they need to regain their lives and heal from their wounds.

In closing, I would like everyone to see the documentary about my son and his journey to incarceration. It can be seen here at In Their Boots.




  1. Hi JK! I have argued this very point about families being a part of the military member's treatment/assessment. No one knows more about their family member than someone who lives with them. We detect even the changes of hair on their body! I have to constantly fight to get our VA to listen to me and basically pitch a bitch fit to hear me out. I know when he goes downhill, I was the one who picked up the symptoms of TBI which they ignored and said it was all part of PTSD. When we got a diagnosis, I really wanted to give them the finger and say "Ahhh don't know crap!" I think ours is just so over run that they don't care, don't have enough time, and the ones who do care often are locked down with red tape. I have seen several research papers with Veteran's being incarcerated and having severe cases of PTSD and have gone w/o treatment but not on their part. They sought, and got turned away. Then the military wonders why we have such a high suicide rate. Hmmmm....interesting post and welcome to the PASP family! ~USM

  2. All I can say is thank you. My husband just got back from iraq and he is now in jail. He doesn't remember what happen the night he got arrested. I do know what happen from the police report and im looking in every direction for help.


  3. When my husband got home everyone could tell he wasn't the same. He looked lost all the time and barely. Got any sleep. All the sighns points to ptsd. I call people everyday looking for help but I get no where just some dead ends.

  4. my fiance did a tour in Iraq and is now incarcerated due to a PTSD related crime. i live in a very small town so the prosecutors are going to try to give him life(even though he took no ones life.) i have been working with the VA and as of right now they seem to be doing something, but i come from a military family and i know that things could go horribly wrong any day. i can only hope and pray that one day these brave men and women get the true help they fought for, and deserve. no one knows what the soldiers go thru everyday.They might leave Iraq, but Iraq will never leave them.

  5. hello everyone my name is maria wright i too am a mother of an Iraq veteran,my son served 2 tours in Iraq and he is presently incarcerated in San for his life.we were told that my son suffers stage 3 P.T.S.D. yet our courts refuse to acknowledge his illness.attorneys have know son gave this country 8 yrs of his life and in that process he lost himself,i feel like there is no help out there.if anyone knows of any asstsance out there please let me know.GOD BLESS

    1. I sent your email off to the person who wrote this article, she should be contacting you soon.

      Also, To all those that respond to this post, you can go to this web address to find support for family members of incarcerated veterans.

  6. Well, it has been three years since I posted to this blog, and I thought Id give an update. When my son was arrested, there were just two veterans courts in this country. Now there are 120 veterans courts operate in 35 states, with 100 in the planning stages. This is encouraging, however most of them refuse to qualify those veterans who are charged with violent felonies. That rules out those who are charged with domestic violence or firing a weapon. I have found that so many veterans have been charged with those offenses, as carrying a weapon is something that they did most all of the time during their military service, and it makes them feel secure at home. Veterans courts are a real way to help our suffering veterans and keeps them out of prison, while providing the mental health services that they need, however so many never get that chance because either they do not live near one of these courts, or they have committed a violent felony. My son sat in prison for 4 years without treatment, and it did not help him at all. Thankfully there was a court order for inpatient treatment afterwards, and the VA had to comply and provide him a bed as soon as he got out. I can say he is a bit better now, but he still has lingeing issues that are not being addressed. We have worked through some drinking issues, but he still has anger problems,and is very reclusive and isolated. As a mother, and next door neighbor to my son, I have th deal with this on a daily basis. It has been very hard and challenging. The best thing that I have done for myself is to find good counseling, and stay with it on a weekly basis. I found a great free counselor through give an hour. He helps me to better understand and cope with my sons day to day issues, and also helps me to communicate better with him. I have a great facebook group for families of incarcerated veterans. You can join here!/groups/261293906105/
    There are quite a few families who's veterans have PTSD and are incarcerated there and maybe you can friend some of them and see what they have done to help their veterans. In closing, I wish everyone peace, perseverence, and prayers. Supporting your veteran is a life long effort that requires a lot of knowledge, love, and patience.

  7. My husband is incarcerated in Vista county jail, he has PTSD and TBI and never received any chance to get treatment the judge and lawyers didn't even try to help him and now he has no chance of a future bc they deemed him as something hes not. The VA wouldn't even help him after 2 deployments. His last deployment he was with the unit 3/5 Darkhorse marines. he was injuried over there 2 concussion on concussion he was so close to the IED he couldn't have stopped it, and he watched several marines fall in Afghinstan. What happened to NEVER LEAVE A MAN BEHIND. I am a marine also. Im so sick of them not seeing whats infront of them with the veterans, please if you have any suggestions, email me

  8. I am a mom of a veteran who served twice in Afghanistan and is currently incarcerated in California. Our stories are similar and not much is done to help them. If there is a mom who would like to share experiences, I would love to hear from you!

  9. Hi Jamie,

    I've just read your article and it was highly interesting, thank you so much for sharing. I feel now somewhat more enlightened about PTSD.

    I'm currently working for a magazine in Berlin, Germany called Sensa Nostra (link to website and i'm really interested in learning more about PTSD and I'm sure our readership would want to also.

    Would one of your contributors possibly be interested in doing an interview with me? I would be interested to hear more about your life experiences and also your thoughts on the issues of things around it like how it is presented in the media and how it affects both the sufferer and those around the sufferer.

    If you're interested, email me on or add me on skype at patrick.constable2.

    I really look forward to hearing back from you.

    Best wishes,


  10. I am posting this for someone currently incarcerated who could use some help with his case. Please contact me at


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