New Haven Vietnam veteran wins long fought case against US Army
New Haven Register, Conn.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Vietnam combat veteran has won his case with the U.S. Army, which has upgraded his discharge status to take into consideration his symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
John Shepherd Jr., of New Haven, after suffering homelessness and unemployment for four decades, will now be able to access disability benefits denied him prior to the victory.
“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 Department of Defense. Their fight is still going,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd was denied an update on his discharge four times, prompting the legal clinic to file a proposed class action suit against the Army in October 2012. The case was dismissed on Nov. 1 with the Army agreeing to upgrade Shepherd’s status and pay $37,000 in attorney’s fees.
“This settlement is a victory for Mr. Shepherd,” said Jessica Martinez, a law student intern representing him.
Shepherd had earned a Bronze Star with Valor Device, the Army’s fourth highest award for valor in combat, for his actions in Vietnam.
He credited the legal work of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic of Yale Law School, which is trying to get a policy change that could help some 80,000 Vietnam veterans who received less than honorable discharges when PTSD was not taken into consideration.
PTSD was not recognized as a medical condition until 1980.
“Mr. Shepherd has received long overdue recognition of his heroic service in Vietnam,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “The DOD has commendably—but belatedly—recognized the devastating, disabling effects of post traumatic stress injuries on Vietnam veterans, and the obligation to address their enduring wounds. Countless other veterans deserve the same respect and recognition. It’s long overdue.”
But the case leaves unresolved the class-wide claims filed by the clinic.
“... 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,” Martinez said in a statement.