Five Vietnam War veterans, including a New Haven resident, filed a federal lawsuit Monday, claiming that they have been denied benefits and suffered stigma because they received “other than honorable” discharges due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They asked the U.S. District Court in New Haven to designate the suit as a class action on behalf of tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans in the country in similar circumstances. PTSD wasn’t designated a medical condition until 1980, five years after the Vietnam War ended. Many Vietnam veterans with undiagnosed PTSD contend they received other than honorable discharges due to behaviors connected with that illness. Vietnam Veterans of America and its Connecticut State Council, and the New Haven-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress are also plaintiffs in the suit. They are being represented by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
Gene Trotman, 59, of Waterbury, has been fighting for so long to get disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration, he now wonders if “maybe they’re waiting for me to die.”
Trotman, an Air Force veteran who served in the early 1970s, initially sought benefits in 1991 for a psychiatric condition. After several denials, he was finally approved for disability compensation last July. But, he still hasn’t received any money. He is waiting for the VBA Hartford Regional Office to complete the process which determines how much he will get. Connecticut veterans typically wait more than seven months, an average of 213 days, to have claims processed, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs figures compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting. As of Jan. 28, a total of 1,364 state veterans’ cases were backlogged out of 2,750 who have filed claims, the numbers show. Waits longer than 125 days are considered backlogged. For appeals of VBA decisions, the average wait is more than three years – 1,181 days.