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YLS Clinic Files Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Vietnam Veterans with PTSD

Five Vietnam combat veterans and three veterans’ organizations filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on Monday, March 3, 2014 seeking relief for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during their military service and subsequently received an other than honorable discharge. The lawsuit challenges the Pentagon’s refusal to recognize that injury led to “bad paper” discharges. Four of the plaintiffs, who are represented by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal '73 to hold a press conference at the Law School Monday.

WATCH VIDEO OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The lawsuit estimates that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans received an other than honorable discharge for conduct attributable to their undiagnosed PTSD. Because PTSD was not a medical diagnosis until 1980, many Vietnam Era service members who suffered from PTSD and struggled to perform their assigned duties received “bad paper” discharges instead of the medical discharges they would likely receive today, according to the lawsuit.

"These veterans were wounded in war and then wounded again by their country." Sen. Richard Blumenthal '73 at 3.3.14 press conference

For the past four decades, their discharge statuses have barred these veterans from receiving the recognition and benefits their service earned. The lawsuit alleges that these veterans have faced stigmatization in the job market and in society.

“When I was in high school, I worked at the VA hospital in the kitchen as a dishwasher. But after I came home from Vietnam, I couldn’t even get my job back as a dishwasher because of my bad paper,” said plaintiff Conley Monk. “My discharge status has been a lifetime scar. If I were discharged today, my PTSD would be recognized and treated—and I wouldn’t be punished for having a service-connected medical condition.”

“Tens of thousands of brave and honorable Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress have been doubly injured by the black mark of an other than honorable discharge, resulting in unjustly denied support, services and benefits,” said Richard Blumenthal '73, United States Senator for Connecticut. “These heroic veterans are long overdue present day appreciation of modern mental health in the timely review of their discharge upgrade appeals.”

In addition to Monk, a New Haven resident and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, the other individual plaintiffs are James Cottam (California, U.S. Army), George Siders (Georgia, U.S. Marine Corps), Kevin Marret (Indiana, U.S. Marine Corps), and James Davis (New York, U.S. Army).

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Vietnam Veterans of America Connecticut State Council (VVA-CT), and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR) have also joined the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their members.

Despite advances in understanding PTSD since 1980, the lawsuit claims that the Pentagon has refused to apply medically appropriate standards in reviewing Vietnam veterans’ requests to upgrade their discharges based on PTSD attributable to service. The lawsuit further alleges that the decades-long failure of the service branches to give fair consideration to these applications is discrimination against a group of veterans who not only have PTSD, but are also elderly and often indigent.

“These veterans served their country, but their country, through the service branches’ failure to upgrade their discharges, has not served them,” said Dr. Tom Berger, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Council, Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s time to finally give them the upgrades and recognition they deserve.”

“We started the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress to rectify the injustices that veterans with less than honorable discharges have endured. Hundreds of thousands of veterans who served during the Vietnam Era returned home with bad paper, many unjustly,” said Garry Monk, Executive Director of NVCLR and brother of Conley Monk.

“Unfortunately, the Pentagon has refused to correct the decades of injustice experienced by tens of thousands of veterans who suffer from PTSD but were discharged before it was a diagnosable condition,” said V Prentice, a law student intern in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. “This action seeks to compel appropriate action by the military and to finally secure justice for these veterans.”

For more information, please call (203) 436-9270.

About Vietnam Veterans of America: Founded in 1978, VVA is the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam Era veterans and their families. VVA’s goals are to promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans, to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans. VVA-CT is one of VVA’s 48 State Councils.

About the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress: The NVCLR is organized to provide veterans with social, legal, and technical assistance including help with meals, housing, and benefits. NVCLR is particularly interested in upgrading the discharge statuses of veterans who received less than honorable discharges.

About the Veterans Legal Services Clinic: The plaintiffs in this case are represented by law student interns Thomas Brown, Elizabeth Ingriselli, Virginia McCalmont, Jennifer McTiernan, and V Prentice, and supervising attorneys Michael Wishnie and Jonathan Manes 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. It is one of only a handful of clinics in the country dedicated solely to serving veterans and their organizations.