Vietnam veterans won a long-denied victory on benefits and bad conduct discharges. For years these veterans have struggled to get long-denied benefits. Last spring five Vietnam combat veterans filed a class action lawsuit to get their discharges upgraded. Conley Monk, Jr. of New Haven, Connecticut, who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told WNPR that the discharge he received from the Marine Corps had impacted his life in many ways.
“A lifetime scar, a stigmatization. And that’s something that I didn’t want. I wanted to be able to go to school; they wouldn’t pay for my schooling.”
Having served in Vietnam from 1968-70, Monk suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Jennifer Tiernan, an intern at the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, thousands of Vietnam veterans are affected by these bad conduct discharges.
“These five men are representative of what we estimate to be 80,000 Vietnam veterans who developed PTSD during their military service, and as a result, had conduct that led to other than honorable discharges,” she said. “And these discharges have been a bar from receiving most VA benefits that most veterans are entitled to.”
After the suit was filed, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memo to the Records Corrections boards asking that the boards consider a PTSD diagnosis as a reason for upgrading the discharges. The five veterans involved in the case have all had their discharges upgraded to honorable.
Monk stated that because of his discharge, he was unable to get the necessary benefits he needed, including a home loan, education benefits, and healthcare. With the correction to his discharge papers, which took 40 years, he is now eligible to receive these benefits. Although the five Vietnam veterans involved in the lawsuit were able to get their discharges upgraded, some veterans have been denied the upgrades. Veterans are encouraged to reapply for the discharge upgrades, reports Connecticut Health I-Team.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and a member of the Armed Forces Service Committee, expressed concern that the Veterans Administration hasn’t conducted an outreach program to let veterans know that the program is available. With the new guidelines, Vietnam veterans now have a chance to correct less-than-honorable discharges that were the result of PTSD.
Hundreds of veterans have contacted the Yale Law School Legal Clinic to ask about the new guidelines, said Virginia McCalmont, another intern at the clinic that worked on the case. Although Federal Senior Judge Warren W. Eginton dismissed the case last November, the five Vietnam veterans involved in the case were still allowed to receive honorable discharges because of the new Department of Defense guidelines. For now, the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic has chosen not to refile the lawsuit since the Department of Defense changed its guidelines.
[Photo Credit WNPR]