Thousands of Army veterans with mental illnesses will get a second chance for a higher discharge status and veterans’ benefits because of a settlement in a class action suit brought by two Connecticut veterans. The settlement requires the U.S. Army to “automatically reconsider” every rejected application for discharge upgrades connected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or related mental health conditions that it rejected over nine years from April 17, 2011 through November 17, 2020. So far, the Army has identified about 3,500 affected veterans of the Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard. The lawsuit represented veterans who were given less than honorable discharges for behaviors they contend were triggered by PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or related issues. The suit contended that the Army failed to follow its own rules that require consideration of mental health in discharge upgrade applications.
Since serving in the military post 9/11, veterans Michael Thomas, Tiara Boehm and Jay Murray have endured losses they attribute to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including destroyed marriages, friendships and careers. PTSD, a debilitating mental health condition, afflicts between 5 and 23 percent of the 3 million veterans who have served since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It costs the federal government more than $2 billion just in the first year of PTSD care for veterans, according to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office study. But, 17 years into the current conflicts, the link between PTSD and life consequences in this cohort of veterans is still unproven because there haven’t been longitudinal studies on it. Veterans’ advocates say this is a symptom of national indifference to the ongoing wars.
Growing up, Mary Louise Montini, 13, has often been angry, upset and on edge, just like her father, a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her experience isn’t unique. Children can develop their own mental illnesses as a result of their parents’ struggles with PTSD and other mental health disorders associated with their military service, professionals say. And there are few resources and programs targeted to veterans’ children, compared to children of active military. Experts say the treatment needs of veterans’ children will continue as their parents continue to rotate through deployments to conflicts around the world, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Marriage and struggles with religion and spirituality significantly raise the suicide risk for veterans, according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Transitioning back into a domestic home environment may prove exceedingly difficult,” resulting in an increased suicide risk for veterans who are married or living with a partner, the study states. In addition, suicide risk rises substantially for veterans undergoing strains in their religious and spiritual lives, the study shows. Such strains include beliefs expressed by veterans that they have been abandoned by God, that God doesn’t love them or is punishing them. On the other hand, no effect on suicide risk was seen when veterans reported positive religious and spiritual connections.
A Connecticut veterans’ leader Monday filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of Army veterans nationwide who, like him, were given less than honorable discharges for behaviors later attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Stephen Kennedy of Fairfield, a lead plaintiff, is a decorated Army veteran and a founder of the state chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. In the suit, he claims the Army isn’t following a Pentagon policy to make it easier for veterans with PTSD to upgrade their discharge statuses. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, is asking the court to order the Army to properly apply the policy. Issued by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the policy directs military review boards to give “liberal consideration” to veterans whose service-connected PTSD is diagnosed after discharge. A second plaintiff, Alicia J. Carson, a former Connecticut resident who was in the Army and the National Guard and now lives in Alaska, is also named in the lawsuit.
It has taken more than 40 years, but Connecticut veteran Conley Monk has won his battle to have his military discharge status upgraded and can now receive federal benefits. Monk, 66, and four other Vietnam War veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were granted upgrades by the Pentagon after filing a federal lawsuit in March 2014 against the Armed Forces. The veterans had received Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges, which they contend were based on behaviors later attributed to PTSD. PTSD was not designated as a medical condition until 1980. The five veterans were given General Under Honorable Conditions discharges.
Two programs that connect arrested veterans to treatment – rather than jail – report that many are getting their lives back on track. Some 81 percent of veterans in the program run by the Veterans Health Administration have not been arrested again. And one run by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services shows a 36 percent drop in illegal drug use among its veterans and a 44 percent decrease in symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “So many people are getting what they really need, which is treatment and not incarceration,” said Laurie Harkness, the VA program director. “It’s making such a difference in so many veterans’ lives.”
The programs, designed to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse problems, operate in courts statewide, where social workers reach out to arrested veterans to let them know about treatment options for PTSD, anger management, and addictions, among other illnesses.
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.