Associations between posttraumatic stress and legal charges among substance using veterans – 2018

Substance misuse is prevalent among veterans entering the criminal justice system, and is related to recidivism. Research demonstrates that trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms, which commonly co-occur with substance misuse, also increase the risk of legal involvement and recidivism. However, it is unclear whether the associations between trauma, PTS symptoms and violent and nonviolent crime may be conflated by substance use. The aim of the present study was to understand the association between PTS symptoms and criminal justice involvement (both violent and nonviolent crime) among substance-using veterans seeking Veterans Affairs (VA) specialty mental health care after accounting for substance use frequency and demographics including age, gender, and ethnicity. Further, this study examined whether specific clusters of PTS were associated with violent and nonviolent veteran offending. Participants included 697 veterans (52 women) aged 21 to 75 (M = 47.49, SD = 13.51) with a history of trauma exposure. Veterans self-reported past-month PTS symptoms, substance use, and lifetime legal charges. Logistic regression results indicated total PTS symptoms were associated with violent, but not nonviolent charges, above and beyond age, sex, race, cocaine use, and heavy alcohol use. Intrusion symptoms, in particular, were associated with violent charges. Results highlight the utility of examining PTS as a multifaceted construct and have implications for the assessment and treatment needs of justice-involved veterans. For example, the findings suggest that treatment needs appear to differ for those reporting violent or nonviolent offending, with a greater need for assessing and treating PTS for those involved with violent crime.

Bennett, D. C., Morris, D. H., Sexton, M. B., Bonar, E. E., & Chermack, S. T.
Law and Human Behavior, 42(2), 2018