Veterans Nail Feds on Old Discharge Records

     NEW HAVEN (CN) – Veterans groups claim in Federal Court that the military is trying to keep a lid on “bad-paper discharges” it handed tens of thousands of service members who likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder before the medical community recognized that condition.
     Vietnam Veterans of America and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress brought the complaint on Monday against the U.S. Department of Defense and three military branches.
     They say that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs denies disability compensation and other benefits to veterans who received other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges, but that many who received such “bad-paper discharges” are the tens of thousands of servicemembers suffering from undiagnosed PTSD.
     PTSD was not recognized as a medical condition until 1980, according to the complaint.
     While Congress has created internal boards to consider applications by veterans seeking to revise their discharge papers, the veterans say these boards “have collectively failed to prioritize or take seriously discharge upgrade requests from veterans diagnosed with PTSD stemming from military service.”
     From 1993 to 2014, the Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records approved fewer than 5 percent of these type of applications from Vietnam veterans, according to the complaint.
     Crediting a class action they filed last year, the groups note that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum in September 2014 that instructed the boards to give veterans with PTSD “liberal consideration.”
     The groups say they in turn filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act for records showing how the boards adjudicated PTSD-related applications before and after Hagel’s so-called “PTSD Updgrade Memo.”
     “Disclosure of these records is essential for the public to assess DOD’s compliance with the directive and assist veterans seeking to apply for discharge upgrades,” the complaint states, but the government has thus far allegedly failed to provide responsive, non-exempt records within the statutory time period.
     “Without information about how DOD, Army, Navy, Air Force, and their respective boards have handled PTSD-related discharge upgrade applications, the public cannot hold these entities accountable for the fair and just treatment of veterans,” the complaint states.
     The groups note that the records implicate an estimated 80,000 Vietnam veterans, many of whom are elderly, indigent and suffer from medical problems.
     Without records showing whether these veterans’ discharges are being reconsidered, the groups say that Hagel’s memo is “merely a symbolic gesture.”
     The last communication that the groups had with the Defense Department was on Dec. 29, 2014, when the agency said it was working on the request.
     The Air Force allegedly urged the groups to narrow the scope of their request. The Navy told the plaintiffs it was closing the request as duplicative of the one filed with the Defense Department, and the Army declined to process most of the request as “unduly burdensome,” according to the complaint.
     The groups say they narrowed their Dec. 8, 2014, requests to the military branches in March and April, but have not received a response.
     They are represented by Michael Wishnie of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.

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