Vietnam Vet Wins Discharge Upgrade In PTSD Lawsuit

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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A Vietnam veteran who received the Bronze Star and later was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder will have his discharge status upgraded under a settlement with the U.S. Army, his representatives announced Monday.

John Shepherd Jr., a 66-year-old New Haven resident, said the Army agreed to resolve his lawsuit by upgrading his original other-than-honorable discharge to an honorable discharge. The change will allow Shepherd to receive disability benefits he had been denied, according to Yale Law School students who represented him.

Shepherd has said he battled alcoholism and struggled to stay employed for 40 years, but was not diagnosed with PTSD until 2004.

‘‘I didn’t know if this day would ever come,’’ Shepherd said in a statement. ‘‘Good thing I'm a fighter, because it took years of fighting to receive recognition of my sacrifices and service in Vietnam. But there are thousands of guys like me who also deserve better from the DOD. Their fight is still going.’’

An Army spokesman declined to comment and a message left with a Department of Defense spokeswoman was not immediately returned. A Defense Department spokeswoman said last year the agency is committed to addressing concerns related to PTSD and has taken numerous steps, including conducting PTSD assessments of service members at military treatment facilities.

The Army awarded Shepherd a Bronze Star after his unit came under intense fire and he entered an enemy bunker and threw a grenade that killed several enemy soldiers, according to the lawsuit.

He developed PTSD symptoms after blowing up the enemy bunker and later witnessing the gruesome deaths of several comrades, according to his lawsuit. Shepherd began to act strangely and was found wandering around a base in a confused state. He eventually reached a breaking point and refused to go back into the field, the lawsuit says.

He was charged with failure to obey an order and was discharged.

Shepherd unsuccessfully applied four times to the Army to upgrade his discharge status. He filed a proposed class action lawsuit last year, accusing the Army of failing to properly consider evidence of PTSD when deciding discharge upgrade applications from Vietnam veterans. The case was dismissed Friday with the Army’s agreement to upgrade Shepherd’s discharge status and pay $37,000 in attorney’s fees, students said.

‘‘This settlement is a victory for Mr. Shepherd,’’ said Jessica Martinez, a law student intern representing Shepherd with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. ‘‘It does not resolve the class-wide claims, but we hope this agreement will help persuade the Army that other Vietnam veterans with PTSD should not have to file federal lawsuits to win recognition of their honorable service.’’

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