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PTSD on driver's licenses gets mixed reviews

COVINGTON -- Veterans and current military members with post-traumatic stress disorder could soon have their diagnosis displayed on their driver's licenses.

The Georgia General Assembly recently passed legislation that would allow current and former military to request the information be included on their licenses. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur) and co-sponsored by State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle.

"I thought it was something that could help sick veterans and police officers. It would be beneficial to both sides," Douglas said. "If a law enforcement officer saw a certain move or something like that he may could attribute it to something along the lines of PTSD. Many police officers and deputies are former military themselves and it would help garner some understanding and recognition of something they themselves might well be familiar with."

Since the bill passed, several veterans advocacy groups have expressed opposition, including Marvin Myers, president of the Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance Inc. Myers said having that information on a driver's license will only serve to perpetuate stigmas associated with PTSD and pave the way for more discrimination against sufferers.

"I spent two and a half years in Vietnam. Most people who were there have some touch of PTSD at some time in their lives," Myers said. "They've been portrayed as everything from Rambo running around like an idiot all over the world shooting people. That's not the typical veteran ... If you're running along speeding and you get pulled over and you pull out your driver's license and it says 'PTSD,' they're not going to be sympathetic."

Myers said it's important to remember the information will be available to everyone from employers to banks -- anyone who requests an ID -- and could affect employability and applications for a firearm, for example.

Douglas said there was no opposition expressed by any veterans groups while the bill was in the works.

"As a result of no concerns being expressed, it passed the Senate unanimously and there was only one no vote in the House," he said. "Had we known there was concern, then we could have worked on that."

Douglas said the bill is not intended to get lenient treatment for PTSD sufferers.

"If there is an altercation, the normal rules and laws that already apply would be in effect anyway," he said.

Asked if the bill could set a precedent for those with other psychological diagnosis to have that information on their licenses, Douglas, who is not running for re-election, said, "That's going to be for the next folks that come along after me to deal with. I'm a co-sponsor. It's not my bill. It's Ron Ramsey's bill."

Douglas said the governor has until May 29 to sign the bill.

Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said he doesn't see any harm to the bill.

"To be honest, this is one of the many, many things the Sheriffs' Association didn't get involved with directly. We certainly didn't oppose it," Norris said. "The more information you have on a person may explain why that person is behaving the way they are."

Law enforcement officers receive specialized training to learn how to deal with mentally ill individuals, he said.

"There are certain things you do and don't do to help mitigate conditions and behaviors by those suffering from mental illness to help deaccelerate possibly volatile situations. It may be helpful to be aware that someone may be suffering from (PTSD)," he said.

The legislation has prompted the Georgia Sheriffs' Association to revisit a previous idea of having sex offenders identified on their drivers licenses, he added.

The Department of Drivers Services has not finalized its policies and procedures related to the new legislation, according to Spokeswoman Susan Sports.

"We do know that this new information will be on the back of the license. With the new licensing system, DDS has the capability to add text to the back of licenses and IDs such as medical information, etc.," Sports said.

The PTSD designation would be voluntary and would require a sworn statement from a physician verifying the diagnosis and a waiver of liability for release of medical information. If signed by the governor, it would become law July 1.