NEW HAVEN — A federal lawsuit alleges the U.S. Army has issued less-than-honorable discharges for potentially thousands of service members without adequately considering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.
Every day, during his 14 months of service, Steve Kennedy, an Iraq veteran, former infantryman and a member of the 82nd airborne division, expected to be blown up, admitting his mind wasn't right.
"Eventually, I started hurting myself. I started to go out looking for fights," he said.
Then, while also fighting the enemy inside, he said he "found out I had lost my leave to attend my own wedding. I didn't know how to handle it. At the end of the day, I thought I was gonna kill myself anyway."
So, Kennedy went AWOL to get married. When he got back, he was sent to mental health.
"The psychologist said that they didn't have the resources to treat me," Kennedy said.
He was given a general discharge.
"Already dealing with depression and then undiagnosed PTSD, I was told that my service was less than fully honorable," Kennedy said.
So, after 9 years of unsuccessfully fighting to restore his benefits, Kennedy signed on to a class action lawsuit, with the help of Yale's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, filed against the Secretary of the Army.
"We have thousands of veterans, right here in Connecticut, who are in the same position," Kennedy told the media Monday morning.
Until last year, Hamden Vietnam veteran Conley Monk had gone 45 years without benefits, after his less than honorable discharge, which he believes was also related to PTSD, which was first a diagnosis in the 1980s. He was part of a class action suit filed by the Yale team, as well.
"It stigmatized me," said Monk. "It prevented me from getting housing, jobs and also services that I needed for my PTSD 40:53
Kennedy pointed out that this lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, only justice
They say a review board set up to give veterans a second chance often doesn't do an adequate job in considering PTSD and related conditions. Acting Army Secretary Robert Speer is named as the defendant.
In 2014, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memo asking the the Army Discharge Review Board, which is set up to give veterans a second chance, to give a liberal consideration to discharge upgrade applications involving indications of PTSD. But, Yale officials say that, in 2015, the the ADRB didn't even mention the Hagel memo in nearly half of cases involving allegations of PTSD," said Jon Petkun, a Marine Corp veteran, who is part of the Yale team.
Students and professors with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic filed the case on behalf of the veterans. They are seeking class-action status.
An Army spokesman said the branch doesn't generally comment on pending litigation.