Defense Dept. Agrees to Disclosure of PTSD Records for Vets Clinic Clients

The U.S. District Court in Connecticut approved a settlement in Vietnam Veterans of America et al v. Dept. of Defense et al., a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. The veterans groups sought records regarding implementation of a September 2014 directive by then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requiring that military record correction boards give “liberal consideration” to applications by veterans with PTSD who had received an other-than-honorable or other bad discharge and later seek to have their discharge status upgraded. Under the settlement, DOD agreed to release statistics on a quarterly basis for the next two years concerning PTSD applications and adjudications by each board and each service branch.

“Vietnam Veterans of America has long held that thousands of Vietnam veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder were wrongfully discharged with bad paper,” said John Rowan, VVA National President. “The overwhelming majority of them were not malingerers. They were not cowards. They served honorably and well, and did what was asked of them. But they were suffering from what is now known as PTSD at a time when PTSD was not an accepted mental health diagnosis. This settlement will help veterans and the public ensure that the record correction boards faithfully implement Secretary Hagel’s instruction and enable many of these veterans to get a modicum of the justice denied them for so long.”

“Nearly two years ago, NVCLR and my brother Conley Monk helped bring a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Defense to hold its record correction boards accountable,” said Garry Monk, Executive Director for the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. “For decades, these boards denied upgrades to veterans with less than honorable discharges when these men and women had service-related PTSD. We welcomed the Hagel Memo and believe this settlement will allow the public to monitor the military’s compliance with its command. We now need the Department of Defense to make a serious and coordinated effort to reach out to veterans to make sure our troops know where they can find help to apply for an upgrade and remove the lifelong stigma of a bad paper discharge.”

“The court order approving this settlement requires DOD to disclose, on a quarterly basis and for the next two years, the number of PTSD applications received by each Army, Navy, and Air Force record correction or discharge review board, as well as the number of applications approved and denied and their docket numbers,” said Prof. Michael J. Wishnie, Director of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represented the plaintiffs in the suit. “For the first time, this will allow veterans, their advocates, and the public to know whether DOD is fulfilling its twin obligations under the Hagel Memo to conduct a vigorous campaign of outreach to eligible veterans and to give ‘liberal consideration’ to the discharge upgrade applications the boards actually receive.”

The Hagel Memo is available here. “Unfinished Business: Correcting ‘Bad Paper’ for Veterans with PTSD,” a November 2015 report that analyzes information previously released as a result of this lawsuit and which was prepared for VVA and NVCLR by Sundiata Sidibe and Francisco Unger of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, is available here.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School represents Connecticut veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts, on benefits, discharge upgrade, immigration, and pardon matters. In addition, students represent local and national organizations in non-litigation matters relating to the legal needs of veterans, including regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy, strategic planning, and other matters.