News & Events

Print/PDF this page:

Print Friendly and PDF

Share this page:

Veterans Clinic Settles Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Vietnam Veteran

John W. Shepherd, Jr., a Vietnam combat veteran who earned a Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Army’s fourth-highest award for valor in combat, has prevailed in a lengthy struggle to compel the U.S. Army to recognize his service. Shepherd, who is a client of the Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic,received an Other Than Honorable discharge after he began manifesting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In a settlement agreement, the Army agreed to upgrade Shepherd’s discharge status to Under Honorable Conditions (General).

“I didn’t know if this day would ever come,” stated Shepherd. “Good thing I’m a fighter, because it took years of fighting to receive recognition of my sacrifices and service in Vietnam. But there are thousands of guys like me who also deserve better from the DoD. Their fight is still going,” Shepherd added, “And I could have never accomplished this without the time and resources of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic of Yale Law School.”

Shepherd, a New Haven resident, unsuccessfully applied four times to the Army to upgrade his discharge status. In October 2012, he filed a proposed class action lawsuit, accusing the Army of failing to properly consider evidence of PTSD when adjudicating discharge upgrade applications from Vietnam veterans. The case, Shepherd v. McHugh, was dismissed November 1, 2013, with the Army’s agreement to upgrade Shepherd’s discharge status and pay $37,000 in attorney’s fees.

“Mr. Shepherd has received long overdue recognition of his heroic service in Vietnam,” stated Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “The DoD has commendably—but belatedly—recognized the devastating, disabling effects of post traumatic stress injuries on Vietnam veterans, and the obligation to address their enduring wounds. Countless other veterans deserve the same respect and recognition. It’s long overdue.”

“Because PTSD was not recognized as a diagnosis until 1980, thousands of Vietnam veterans like Mr. Shepherd received erroneous discharges that have wrongfully prevented them from receiving the benefits that their service earned,” stated Tom Berger, Executive Director of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Veterans Health Council. VVA had sought to intervene in the proposed class action on behalf of its members.

As a result of his original discharge status, Shepherd was ineligible for disability benefits. After battling mental illness, homelessness, and unemployment for four decades, he will finally receive the disability benefits he had been denied.

“This settlement is a victory for Mr. Shepherd,” said Jessica Martinez ’14, a law student intern representing Mr. Shepherd with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. “It does not resolve the class-wide claims, but we hope this agreement will help persuade the Army that other Vietnam veterans with PTSD should not have to file federal lawsuits to win recognition of their honorable service.”

Shepherd is represented by law student interns Abigail Graber ’14, Jessica Martinez ’14, and Jennifer McTiernan ’15, and supervising attorneys Michael Wishnie and Fiona Doherty of the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. The clinic, founded in the fall of 2010, represents individual veterans and veterans organizations on a range of matters, including discharge upgrade, benefits claims, and Freedom of Information Act requests. It is one of only a handful of clinics in the country dedicated to serving veterans and their organizations.

Read more about the settlement in this AP article.