Vietnam veterans sue U.S. military for discharge upgrades over PTSD

Mon Mar 3, 2014 4:49pm EST

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(Please note name V Prentice in 11th paragraph is correct)

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Five Vietnam War veterans sued the U.S. military on Monday, saying they were denied some veterans services after receiving other-than-honorable discharges for actions that resulted from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The men, including one who was the victim of a poison gas attack on his first day in Vietnam and another whose duties included sorting through body parts of soldiers killed in combat, called on the military to upgrade the discharges of veterans of the conflict who suffer from PTSD.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, seeks class action status for what it estimates are tens of thousands of veterans who can now be shown to suffer from PTSD, a condition not recognized by the military in the 1960s and early 1970s at the time of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia.

"The military gave these service members other than honorable discharges based on poor conduct such as unauthorized absence without leave, shirking, using drugs, or lashing out at comrades or superior officers," the lawsuit said. "These behaviors, however, are typical of those who have recently experienced trauma and were symptoms of the veterans' underlying, undiagnosed PTSD."

A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit, which names the secretaries of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force as defendants.

PTSD has received wider attention in the United States in recent years following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lawsuit notes that the U.S. armed forces now have procedures in place to diagnose PTSD and will offer honorable discharges to soldiers, sailors and airmen who suffer from the condition, but have not retroactively applied those benefits to Vietnam veterans.

"Isolated and impoverished, they have struggled to cope not only with their war wounds, but also with the shame of other than honorable discharges," the lawsuit said.

The five named plaintiffs are Conley Monk of Connecticut, George Siders of Georgia and Kevin Marret of Indiana, all former Marines, and James Cottam of California and James Davis of New York, both U.S. Army veterans.

Each man was 17-20 years old when he enlisted in 1967-70 and are all in their 60s today.

The lawsuit grew out of Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, a program started in 2010 in which law students helped veterans navigate the bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration. Law students prepared the lawsuit on behalf of the five veterans.

After repeatedly running into cases of veterans with PTSD who were effectively being denied benefits because of their condition, the students realized they were facing a bigger problem, said one of the interns, who goes by the name V Prentice.

"We realized the VA wasn't the place to find justice because there were not consistent and medically appropriate standards being applied there," Prentice said.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Grant McCool)

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Comments (6)
WhyMeLord wrote:
Am I wrong, but didn’t these veterans volunteer for their service with a clear and full knowledge of what might lie ahead for them?
A little late to be seeking retribution, but leave it to some intern lawyers to stir up the pot in an effort to rake in some much needed money to pay off their student loans. Lawyers are a slimy bunch to be sure, but getting involved with vets from Vietnam is a bit much, even for them; fair is fair, not everything profits from litigation.

Mar 03, 2014 6:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
USMC62 wrote:
no ones left behind, i hope this would extend to combat
veterans of other wars and conflicts also. i as a combat
veteran of two conflicts give kudos to the guys
fighting for my rights for benefits, you saved my life
semper fi

Mar 04, 2014 6:23am EST  --  Report as abuse
looie11 wrote:
first of all, it is highly unlikely any one of these 5 VOLUNTEERED for service. all were most likely drafted. since they were discharged with LESS than honorable status, they were unable to receive many benefits of the military that PTSD victims get now. they were later on diagnosed with the illness.

Mar 04, 2014 3:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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