Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist
March 18, 2014
Five Vietnam combat veterans and three veterans’ organizations filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on March 3, seeking relief for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who developed post-traumatic stress disorder during their military service and subsequently received an other than honorable discharge. Tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans received an other than honorable discharge for conduct attributable to their undiagnosed PTSD, according to a news release.
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, the news release stated.
Students from the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at the Yale Law School have been working on the issue for some time and recently released a report that the Coast Guard engaged in the same policy decisions with regard to PTSD. The class action suit names the U.S. Army, Navy and the Air Force. The law clinic, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress put out the following press release:
“When I was in high school, I worked at the VA (Veterans Administration) 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 U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “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, Vietnam Veterans of America Connecticut State Council, and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress have also joined the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their members.
Despite advances in understanding PTSD since 1980, 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 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, which represents the plaintiffs in this suit. “This action seeks to compel appropriate action by the military and to finally secure justice for these veterans.”