BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CN) - Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have filed a class action lawsuit asking the U.S. military to upgrade their other-than-honorable discharges.
Lead plaintiff Conley Monk, the Vietnam Veterans of America et al. claim that PTSD was not recognized by the medical community as a psychiatric disorder until 1980, well after the end of the Vietnam War.
The five individual plaintiffs all applied for discharge upgrades and were denied.
The five men - Monk, Kevin Marret, George Siders, James Cottam, and James Davis - all were given other-than-honorable discharges, which is sometimes referred to as an "undesirable discharge," according to the 37-page lawsuit.
The plaintiffs seek class status for "tens of thousands" of Vietnam veterans in similar situations.
More than 260,000 veterans, about 3 percent of those who served during the Vietnam War Era, received other-than-honorable discharges.
Soldiers with an other-than-honorable discharge generally are ineligible for numerous benefits, including disability compensation, education benefits, a military burial and benefits for surviving family members.
The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study estimates that 30.9 percent of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD. The study also indicates that rates of PTSD in 1990 were significantly elevated for veterans with high levels of war-zone exposure.
Yet, "The United States military has near-categorically refused to correct these wrongful discharges," according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs and veterans in similar situations have "have experienced such hardships as homelessness, prolonged unemployment, and severely damaged family and social relationships. Isolated and impoverished, they have struggled to cope not only with their war wounds, but also with the shame of other than honorable discharges. Because of their stigmatizing discharges, many of these veterans are ineligible for the disability compensation and other benefits that their military service otherwise earned them," the veterans say in the complaint.
The plaintiffs add that "many Vietnam veterans who suffer from PTSD and received other than honorable discharges are now elderly, disabled, and indigent."
The veterans claim there is a discriminatory pattern of denying Vietnam veterans' requests for upgrades to their discharges.
Since 1993, Vietnam veterans asserting PTSD have made 375 applications for upgrades of other-than-honorable discharges to military discharge boards.
Of those 375 only 4.53 percent were granted.
In requests from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 30.58 percent of the records were corrected, according to the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
"The military has failed to prioritize discharge upgrade requests from Vietnam veterans with PTSD," the lawsuit states.
"The military has failed to apply consistent and medically appropriate standards to assess the impact of PTSD attributable to service on the conduct that led to discharge, resulting in the defendants' discriminatory and near-categorical denial of discharge upgrade applications by veterans who acquired PTSD from their service in the Vietnam Theater."
The lawsuit was filed by students at Yale Law School's Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization. Michael Wishnie is the supervising attorney.
Joining as plaintiffs are the Vietnam Veterans of America Connecticut State Council; and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.
Named as defendants are the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Marines are a branch of the Navy.