Vietnam-Era Veterans May Receive Long Denied Benefits Under New Rules

A new set of guidelines released by the Defense Department on Wednesday, September 3rd gives hope to veterans barred from receiving benefits due to less-than-honorable discharges. These new guidelines will base eligibility on special consideration to findings of PTSD. Petitions from veterans seeking upgrades will be reviewed by independent boards to decide whether they are now or at the time of their discharge were suffering from PTSD.

According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel these guidelines are intended to create “fair and consistent results in these difficult cases.” Mr. Hagel is a former Army infantry sergeant who was wounded in Vietnam. “This new guidance reflects our commitment to those who served our country during times of war many decades ago.”

A group of Vietnam veterans had filed a class-action lawsuit just prior to the announcement of these new guidelines. They claim that the military has been repeatedly denying applications for upgrades that involve PTSD.

According to the lawsuit up to 80,000 of an estimated 250,000 Vietnam-era veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Bad Papers” May No Longer Prevent VA Benefits for Some Vets

One of the veterans named in the lawsuit, Conley F. Monk Jr., said that he came under fire almost daily while serving in Vietnam in 1969. He was given an other-than-honorable discharge in 1971 for drug use and fighting that he said was caused by PTSD.

“I had two psychiatrists, one from Yale, one from the V.A., both saying what happened was PTSD,” Mr. Monk said. “The board just said the doctors didn’t know what they were talking about.”

He is among many veterans with so-called “bad papers” who are ineligible for housing and disability benefits, education and are even sometimes barred from the Veterans Affairs health care.

Veterans who apply for an upgrade, under the new rules, will be required to show that they had symptoms of PTSD at the time of their misconduct. They will have to show that their less-than-honorable discharge was a direct cause of PTSD related to military service.

These new guidelines ask boards to “exercise caution” when it comes to cases of serious misconduct, particularly crimes involving premeditation, but urges them to listen to doctors opinions regarding PTSD.

Whether an increase in upgrades will occur due to these new guidelines is unclear, but if they do, it will be a life-changing blessing for many veterans. A spokeswoman for the department said those veterans would be eligible for benefits dating back to their first claim.  For many cases that dates back to the early 70’s, for Mr. Monk, that would be 1971.

Legal Help in the Wake of the New Guidelines

Veterans Help Group is following developments after the release of the new Defense Department guidelines and can answer your questions about how they may apply to you. We welcome you to contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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