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Iraq War vet, ruled guilty but insane in 2008 killing, freed from hospital

An Iraq War veteran, who was found guilty but insane on murder charges due to PTSD, was released Friday from the Oregon State Hospital after the state's review board determined he no longer has a mental illness.

For some veterans, the wounds of war are invisible.
Army Medicine via Flickr.com

Jessie Bratcher's 2009 trial, for the murder of a man he believed had raped his fiancée, was the first in Oregon – and one of the first in the U.S. – that successfully used a defense based on Iraq War service-related PTSD.

Bratcher faced a possible 25 years in prison if convicted in the shooting death of Jose Ceja Medina -- the first murder in the rural Oregon town of John Day since 1992.

At trial, the prosecutor argued Bratcher was faking or exaggerating his PTSD. But the jury concluded Bratcher was, in fact, severely affected by symptoms that had plagued him since his combat service in the Middle East.

Judge William D. Cramer Jr. sentenced Bratcher to life under the supervision of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board.

"No issue" with diagnosis

“Although the state fought that [PTSD] diagnosis, there really was no issue about that,” Bratcher’s attorney, Markku Sario, said in 2010.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that develops in response to traumatic events. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, feeling tense or “on edge,” and avoiding situations that bring back the trauma.

Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans develop the syndrome – about 1 in 5, according to the RAND Corporation. Yet only half seek treatment. And those who do often get substandard care.

Watching death

In 2005 Bratcher saw his friend crushed to death after an Iraqi truck crashed into their Humvee. A few weeks later, Bratcher was in another Humvee when a roadside bomb exploded -- at the same intersection.

After that, Bratcher became hostile and withdrawn. He had recurrent anxiety, depression and mood swings.

"He went from 'Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. I Don't Care Whatever Is Going to Happen,'" his sergeant said.

When he returned to the U.S., he continued to struggle. He had flashbacks of his friend’s death. Sometimes he camped in the woods, setting up a military perimeter around him.

Pain and disability

He sought help from a psychotherapist and was evaluated by the Veterans Administration. Though the VA is reputedly leery of vets’ PTSD claims, there was no argument over Bratcher’s diagnosis.

At age 25, plagued by symptoms, unable to hold a job, the VA rated him 100% disabled.

Before his deployment, Bratcher had been a “model citizen” – a churchgoing small-town boy with no criminal record.

Just a few years after, he was in pain so severe it finally exploded into tragedy.

Bratcher's defense attorney, Sario, said the case won’t be a legal rarity for long: “We're going to have one of these PTSD cases after another.”

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Are you a vet in crisis? Know someone who is? Help is available, all hours, all days.

  • Veterans Crisis Line, confidential support 24/7, 1-800-273-8255, press 1
  • Or click: Veterans Resource Locator
  • Locally, you can also call the Multnomah County Crisis Line, 503-988-4888

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To see all articles by Jenny Westberg, click: Portland Mental Health Examiner. You can also find this link near Jenny's picture at the top of an article.