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Veterans Clinic Files Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Vietnam Vets with PTSD Denied Honorable Discharges

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Vietnam veterans who were denied honorable discharges due to undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Because of their other-than-honorable discharges, these veterans are ineligible for certain benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They are also stigmatized.

“I have lived with the pain of PTSD and carried the shame of my bad discharge for decades,” said John Shepherd, Jr., a U.S. Army veteran who received a Bronze Star for heroism in Vietnam but was later discharged under other-than-honorable conditions for failing to perform his assigned duties. “By bringing this lawsuit, I hope that I can help other veterans in my position get the honor they deserve.”Clinic students (L-R) Dana Montalto '13, Jessica Martinez '14, and Ivy Wang '13 take part in a press conference at Yale Law School on Dec. 3 announcing the class action lawsuit.  

The clinic is representing Shepherd and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), who are demanding that discharges be upgraded for Vietnam veterans who had undiagnosed PTSD at the time their discharges were issued.

PTSD was not recognized as a medical condition until 1980. By then, as many as 80,000 Vietnam veterans had received other-than-honorable discharges for conduct attributable to their undiagnosed PTSD.

“People did not understand PTSD during the Vietnam era,” said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America. “Now that we do, these service members must not be denied the recognition and benefits they long ago earned.”

Each military service branch operates an administrative board empowered to correct an error or injustice in a discharge, said the clinic. In the case of John Shepherd, since he was diagnosed with service-connected PTSD in 2004, he has applied three times to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR) to upgrade his status and has been denied each time.

“In recent years, the ABCMR has approved 46% of all discharge upgrade applications,” said clinic student Dana Montalto ’13, “but when it comes to Vietnam veterans with PTSD, since 2003 the ABCMR has approved fewer than 2% of applications. This discrimination against elderly, often indigent veterans with combat-related PTSD is intolerable.”

Read more in this New York Times article about the lawsuit.