Vets Clinic Advocacy Helps Lead to New CT Law


The Connecticut House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 284 in a unanimous vote on May 8, 2018, sending the legislation to the Governor’s desk. The bill will extend state veterans’ benefits to former service members discharged from the U.S. military under other-than-honorable (OTH) conditions, and who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, or sexual trauma during their service. Once signed into law, the bill would make Connecticut the first state to open its benefits to less-than-honorably discharged veterans with trauma.

The move comes after a Feb. 2018 report released by the Connecticut Chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA-CT) and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School estimated that approximately 800 Connecticut veterans would benefit from the bill. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic represents IAVA-CT in its advocacy for veterans with a less-than-Honorable discharge status, also known as “bad paper.”

“These veterans served their country, experienced trauma, and were punished for it rather than treated. In recognizing them for their service and giving them the opportunity to thrive, Connecticut is finally, truly welcoming them home,” said Jon Petkun '19, a law student intern with the Clinic and Marine Corps veteran.

“I am delighted to see this important legislation pass the House,” said Veterans Committee Co-Chair, Representative Jack Hennessy (D-Bridgeport). “The Veterans Committee heard hours of testimony from veterans’ organizations, healthcare providers, and Connecticut veterans with other-than-honorable discharges themselves. Many of these veterans served in combat and now experience significantly higher rates of suicide, substance abuse disorders, and homelessness than their peers. I am proud to have worked with the Committee to ensure that Connecticut provides these veterans with the care they need to heal their invisible wounds.”

On the House floor, Representative Brian Ohler (R-North Canaan), a Connecticut National Guard veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke openly about his combat-related traumatic brain injury and PTSD diagnoses in support of the bill. Referring to a fellow post-9/11 Marine Corps veteran with PTSD, he said, “the only thing that differed between him and I was a piece of paper. I had an honorable discharge and he had an other-than-honorable. Because of that piece of paper, he is not eligible to receive the care and the benefits that he shed blood for.” 

“The veterans who will benefit from this bill should never have received other-than-honorable discharges in the first place,” said Representative Charles Ferraro (R-West Haven), the Veterans Affairs Committee’s Ranking Member. “The federal VA is only just beginning to understand the connection between these conditions and the misconduct that can lead to a less than honorable discharge, and to provide these veterans with the care and recognition they deserve. I thank my colleagues and the many dedicated advocates who worked for this bill.”

Steve Kennedy, Team Leader for the Connecticut Chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “This is a monumental change in how we treat bad paper discharges and mental health in general. This bill acknowledges not only the impact of service-related mental health conditions on discharge characterizations, but also the need for transition assistance beyond mental health treatment to fully recover. If you have PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or experienced military sexual trauma, you can now receive education, employment, and housing assistance to allow you to rebuild your life and reintegrate into the community. This is huge, and I am so proud of our state for leading the way on the proper treatment of these struggling veterans.”

“The unanimous House and Senate passage of this critical piece of legislation is the direct result of a tremendous amount of energy and support from a coalition of veterans’ organizations and advocates across the state,” added Veterans Committee Co-Chair, Senator Mae Flexer (D-Danielson). “Connecticut now leads the nation in providing fairness and equity for these veterans, and we will continue striving to serve all of our veterans better.”

If signed by the Governor, the legislation will go into effect October 1, 2018.

Founded and led by veterans, IAVA is the modern-day veterans’ hall for the current generation with over 400,000 members worldwide. IAVA-CT carries out this mission in the state, led by and advocating for Connecticut post-9/11 veterans

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. 

Students working on the matter include Meghan Brooks '19, Jonathan Cohen, '19, Arjun Mody '20, Alyssa Peterson '19, and Jonathan Petkun.