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Monday, June 22, 2015

Vets Clinic Wins Case over Bad Discharges for Vietnam Veterans with PTSD

Atmospheric photo of a courthouse

Vietnam combat veterans who brought a class action lawsuit in federal court have won: the Pentagon has agreed to upgrade each man’s “other-than-honorable” discharge status. These men are among the estimated 80,000 Vietnam veterans who developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during their military service and subsequently received an “other-than-honorable” discharge.

“This is a tremendous victory,” said Virginia McCalmont ’15, an intern in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, which represents the veterans along with Jenner & Block LLP. “However, tens of thousands of other veterans are in the same situation and still need help. The Department of Defense should inform all former servicemembers who received bad discharges that it is now taking applications that raise PTSD seriously.”

Plaintiffs Conley Monk, James Davis, Kevin Marret, and George Siders are among the estimated thirty percent of Vietnam veterans who developed PTSD as a result of their military service. Because PTSD was not a medical diagnosis until 1980, many Vietnam Era servicemembers who suffered from PTSD struggled to perform their assigned duties and ultimately received “bad paper” discharges. In March 2014, five veterans sought relief by filing Monk v. Mabus, a proposed nation-wide class action lawsuit, together with Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR).

For decades the Pentagon had been refusing to apply appropriate standards in evaluating Vietnam veterans’ requests to upgrade their discharge statuses based on PTSD attributable to military service, according to the case. The administrative boards charged by Congress with reviewing these requests denied such applications on a near-categorical basis. After the five veterans filed Monk v. Mabus, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued new guidance directing the boards to give “liberal consideration” to applications from veterans with PTSD. Following Secretary Hagel’s directive, the five veterans applied again to the administrative boards and won.

“My bad discharge has been a heavy weight that I’ve carried every day for forty-five years,” said New Haven resident Conley Monk, one of the veterans whose discharge status was recently upgraded. “I served my country as best I could, but I came home from war a wounded man. This discharge upgrade means everything to me, because it says that my combat wounds have been acknowledged and my service to my country credited.”

“After more than four decades, justice has truly been achieved for Conley Monk and the four other brave veterans who joined him in fighting for the benefits and recognition they earned and deserved,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal ’73. “Post-Traumatic Stress was an unknown, misunderstood condition during the Vietnam War, but that does not excuse the decades of delay and inaction on behalf of the Pentagon in failing to correct these grave injustices once PTSD was recognized. Our nation owes Mr. Monk and the four other plaintiffs a debt of gratitude, not just for their brave service in Vietnam, but for their courageous dedication to righting this wrong on behalf of the tens of thousands of veterans denied the consideration they were due. I will be watching closely to ensure that the Department of Defense proceeds quickly and fairly in correcting the thousands of other similar post-traumatic stress-related discharges.”

“I can hold my head up now,” said Kevin Marret, another veteran whose discharge status was recently upgraded. “Before, I felt ashamed. This is long overdue for myself and for the other veterans who need it.”

“We were glad to see former Secretary Hagel direct the boards to take the plight of these veterans seriously,” said John Rowan, the President of VVA. “And we’re thrilled that this group of veterans have received long-overdue relief. We will continue to watch whether the boards are fairly applying Secretary Hagel’s guidance to all the applications that come before them.”

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.