Vietnam-era veterans who have dealt with the consequences of getting a less than honorable discharge could now receive certain benefits.
The change comes after recent decisions by military boards under the Pentagon.
Last spring, five Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD filed a class action lawsuit asking that their discharge statuses be upgraded.
Conley Monk, Jr., of New Haven was the lead plaintiff. He served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, but his post-traumatic stress from combat led to troubles while still in the service. It led to a less than honorable discharge from the Marine Corps.
Monk said that discharge impacted his life in numerous ways. "A lifetime scar, a stigmatization," he said. "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."
Jennifer McTiernan, Student Law Intern at Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, said there are thousands like Monk and his co-plaintiffs. "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 their suit was filed, then-Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memo that asked Records Corrections Boards to consider PTSD diagnoses for vets who had applied for discharge upgrades.
McTiernan said recently the five plaintiffs re-applied for an upgrade and got good news. Their DD214s or military separation records would be re-issued, this time listing them as honorably discharged.
Monk said it's something to celebrate. "A lot of vets who I served with came back with bad papers, they didn't make it," he said. "And I thought I would be one of them. But I was blessed. Thank God for that."
Now the plaintiffs can apply for VA benefits like disability compensation. But there's no telling how long that bureaucracy will take to approve their benefits.
McTiernan with Yale Law School said this change doesn't just apply to Vietnam era veterans. She stressed any veteran with a diagnosis of PTSD and who received a less than honorable discharge can re-apply for an upgrade under this new guidance.