Should Vietnam veterans have their discharges upgraded for PTSD?
Sort of an interesting article in the New York Times today about veterans of Vietnam who were discharged with less than Honorable Discharges who want to upgrade their discharges on the basis of PTSD. Bear in mind that PTSD as a mental diagnosis didn't exist until 1980, so this determination would have to be retroactive. The Yale Law School Veterans Legal Service Clinic has filed suit, and as the NYT lays out, the court has to address two issues:
The suit raises two thorny issues that could affect thousands of Vietnam veterans: Can they be given a diagnosis of PTSD retroactively, to their time in service, though the disorder was not identified until 1980? And if they can, should recently instituted policies intended to protect troops with PTSD be applied retroactively to their cases?
The article talks largely about one such individual, John Shepherd Jr., who had a mixed record in the military:
Within a month, his patrol was ambushed, and Mr. Shepherd responded by tossing a hand grenade into a bunker that killed several enemy soldiers. The Army awarded him a Bronze Star with a valor device, one of its highest decorations.
Yet the medal did little to assuage Mr. Shepherd’s sense of anxiousness and futility about the war. A few weeks after his act of heroism, he said, his platoon leader was killed by a sniper as he tried to help Mr. Shepherd out of a canal...
After a court-martial, the Army discharged Mr. Shepherd under other-than-honorable conditions, then known as an undesirable discharge. At the time, he was happy just to be a civilian again. But he came to rue that discharge, particularly after his claim for veterans benefits was denied because of it. It was a breaking point: his behavior became erratic, and at some point he simply refused to go on patrol.
So, I went to the Yale Law website about Mr. Shepherd's case, and they certainly lay out a comelling argument. One thing that might factor against Mr. Shepherd is that apparently he had problems prior to even arriving in Vietnam, including going AWOL from Basic Training for almost a month.
The last sentence of the article doesn't seem to me to help his case much:
“I want that honorable,” he said. “I did do my part, until I really felt it wasn’t worth getting killed for.”
While I understand what he is saying, I'm not sure you can leave it to individual soldiers to determine when something is "worth getting killed for." But even if it isn't worth getting killed for, I'm not sure that neccessitates upgrading the discharge.
Nonetheless, it should be an interesting case. Had this happened today, his discharge probably would have been upgraded. But then again, if he had gone AWOL from basic today, he probably would have been separated before even deploying, so I am not sure that is the determinitive factor.