Written By: Jennifer Kahl
Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) agreed to reevaluate the less-than-honorable discharges of Vietnam veterans whose behavior may have been a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD was not identified as a mental illness until 1980, so the behavior that warranted these less-favorable discharges may have been symptoms of the untreated illness. The new guidelines set out by the DOD will give these veterans the opportunity to appeal their discharges, opening up new opportunities for education, disability and housing benefits, and veteran’s health care.
The decision by the DOD indicates that the Department is acknowledging, at least to a certain degree, the “Catch-22” in which victims of PTSD are often caught. Though PTSD is often a service-related disease that should qualify the individual for benefits, when misunderstood, its symptoms may disqualify the veteran by resulting in a less-than-honorable discharge. The veteran is then caught in a vicious cycle: he cannot qualify for benefits because of his PTSD, and he cannot get treatment for his PTSD because he has no benefits. However, this risk of being caught in this cycle is not limited to Vietnam veterans. Just because the diagnosis was recognized in 1980 does not mean that all veterans suffering from PTSD after that date were correctly diagnosed. Even today, service men and women who are facing discipline for misconduct and behavioral problems are only given a medical evaluation if they claim PTSD as a mitigating factor. If they are discharged for bad conduct and are later diagnosed, they will find themselves caught in the same trap as their Vietnam comrades.
Though last week’s decision does not address the full scope of the problem, it will hopefully initiate progress for all affected veterans.
Philipps, Dave. New Rules May Allow Benefits Long Denied to Vietnam-Era Veterans. The New York Times, Sept 3, 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/us/va-rules-may-enable-benefits-long-denied-to-vietnam-era-veterans.html?_r=0>.
Tilghman, Andrew. DoD Willing to Reconsider Discharges of Vietnam Vets With PTSD. Military Times, September 3, 2014. <http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140903/ NEWS05/309030039/DoD-willing-reconsider-discharges-Vietnam-vets-PTSD>.
Zoroya, Gregg. Forced-Out Vets Get Chance to Argue PTSD Claims. USA Today, September 3, 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/03/vietnam-veterans-discharge-ptsd-upgrade/15043781/>.