Army will consider upgrading less-than-honorable discharges and expanding access to veterans’ benefits; thousands of vets could be affected

Edmund H. Mahony, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

The U.S. Army has agreed to reconsider decisions that resulted in less-than-honorable discharges for Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans as part of the settlement of a Connecticut-based class action suit that could open a variety of state and federal benefits to tens of thousands of affected veterans.

Settlement of the suit by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic compels the Army to revisit as many as 150,000 appeals by veterans who received so-called “bad paper” discharges for often petty misconduct associated with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder or other underlying mental health issues.

A less-than-honorable discharge can have lifelong consequences. Veterans are denied educational assistance through the GI bill as well as certain mental health and disability benefits that can help those with PTSD or other disorders recover. A less-than-honorable discharges can also be a long-term impediment to housing and employment.

“This is a watershed vindication of veterans’ rights,” said Steve Kennedy, a Connecticut veteran and lead plaintiff in the case. “Not only will this have a practical effect on the lives of thousands of veterans, but this settlement will also signal that the federal government must be held accountable to its word to veterans.”

Soldiers separating from the Army can be discharged honorably, or be given a variety of lesser discharges that drop in grade to dishonorable. After separation, soldiers can appeal for upgrades, claiming PTSD, traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma or other behavioral health conditions were a factor in the behavior that led tot their discharge.

Kennedy, of Fairfield and founder of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he sued because the Army was not giving serious consideration to upgrade requests from soldiers dismissed for behavior consistent with PTSD, even though the law and military directives require it.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the settlement an “historic milestone” in a years-long fight to force the military to recognize and treat traumatic stress injuries.

“I have been pressing every secretary of defense on this issue since I was elected,” Blumenthal said. “I am going to be questioning the incoming Secretary of Defense for the Biden administration very rigorously on her plans. This is something that is going to require ongoing and very close oversight.”

In 2014, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel directed all services to consider traumatic stress, upgrade appeals. but Blumenthal said the Hegel reform was never fully implemented by the military services. The Yale suit and settlement applies only to the U.S. Army.

The Yale law clinic said that the Army has discharged more that 150,000 soldiers with less-than-honorable discharges since the September 11 attacks. Kennedy sued in 2017 and a year later won an eight-year effort to have his discharge upgraded.

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