Vietnam Veterans Sue Military
They want undesirable discharges upgraded due to PTSD
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2012 8:44 AM CST
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is seen as the Sun rises on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, Monday, May 28, 2012, on Memorial Day in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(Newser) – John Shepherd Jr. enlisted in the Army in 1968 and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service during the Vietnam War, yet he can't get veterans benefits today due to his undesirable discharge (now known as an other-than-honorable discharge). Shepherd was court-martialed and discharged after he started acting erratically and ultimately refused to go on patrol; he says he had been feeling increasingly anxious and his breaking point came when his platoon leader was killed in front of him. Years later, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder—and now he's part of a class action lawsuit against the military, fighting for an upgrade to his discharge because of his PTSD.

PTSD was not identified until 1980, but these days, troops must be examined for PTSD before being discharged. If they are diagnosed with PTSD, they can still receive an honorable discharge, which makes it easier to find work and get veterans benefits. But Vietnam-era veterans were not given the same allowances, and the lawsuit argues that Shepherd—and others—had PTSD when he was discharged and should thus receive an upgrade. From 2003 to 2012, 154 Vietnam-era vets petitioned for an upgrade; all but two were rejected, Shepherd included—even though, in other cases, upgrades are granted in almost half the time. The suit could affect thousands of veterans, the New York Times reports.

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Showing 3 of 17 comments
Dec 3, 2012 7:50 PM CST
Why stop at the Vietnam Veterans, why not include Veterans from every conflict the USA has engaged troops in?
Dec 3, 2012 4:14 PM CST
Funny how the article fails to mention that a large number of applications being submitted were by individuals who never served a day in Vietnam, muchless left CONUS.
Dec 3, 2012 10:52 AM CST
I began studying the Vietnam War in 1979. During the war years the news media was continually creating the image that the USA and the American soldiers serving during the war were nothing but evil. This message just did not make sense considering the history of our nation, the use of its military and the American soldiers conduct. I grew up in the 1960s-1970s and was absolutely appalled then and now regarding how our military men were scorned and ridiculed by "my generation". I vividly remember countless arguments with friends and school mates about the men that fought and died in Vietnam. These supposedly "love children" from the "peace loving" generation were completely clueless, heartless, ignorant and selfish in their actions and words. The North Vietnamese were actually defeated in 1968 after the Tet Offensive – which was an absolute defeat and failure for the NVA. Their politicians and generals were shocked by the foolish and naive demonstrators in America. So they simply delayed their inevitable surrender by entering peace talks and re-grouped their forces. Below is some of what I learned from numerous sources; citing facts from American and formerly North Vietnamese politicians and NVA generals that faced our generals on the battlefields of Vietnam. -------------------------------------------------- You should know that all “facts” (not opinions) point to us winning the Vietnam War. The popular notion that we lost the war is a myth. The more you tell a lie the more it becomes the truth. We have been beating ourselves up with guilt for over 35 years based upon deception, lies and myths. When any soldier from any war describes their experience, they are telling their own little view of the war that happens directly to them. All combat veterans can tell stories of horror and mistakes from any nation’s army. Many of these are not mistakes, but the soldier’s perception in his little arena. The perception of a company’s office daily progress would differ from manager and worker. The soldier and worker in the trenches do not see the big picture because of their limited views. Rumors and myths thrive from this. The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was created in 1954 to stem further communist takeover of countries in the Pacific region. SEATO was created as part of the Truman Doctrine to create anti-communist bilateral and collective defense treaties. These treaties and agreements were intended to create alliances that would contain communist power. This is why the United States initially became involved in South Vietnam to fight the communist movement under Ho Chi Minh of North Vietnam. Representatives from Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States, under the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, (from which SEATO was formed), pledged to defend against what it saw as an escalation of communist military aggression against democracy. The Democratic and Republican administrations during those years prevented the US military to fight the war as it should have. Our troops had these ludicrous “rules of engagement” and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) had none. Militarily, our men were severely restrained. However they still accomplished all objectives and forced North Vietnam to admit defeat and sign the peace agreement. At that time our government was afraid if we were too aggressive that China would send troops against us, as in Korea. A little research would have proven this was not going to occur. China admitted this to be true after the war. The memories of us decimating them in the Korean War were still fresh in their minds. North Vietnam knew they could not defeat the US. They developed one of the world’s largest propaganda organizations (Dich Van) to defeat us psychologically. They successfully divided us by pitting the US population (especially naive college students) against our politicians and soldiers. The news media played into their hands without researching facts or sources. The public was “suckered” by the repeated disinformation from North Vietnam along with Communist and other dubious sources from within our nation. For some reason our government was not able or prepared to adequately counter this form of warfare. The NVA was equally trained as well as the US army. They also were just as well equipped-supplied from China and Russia. They actually had better field artillery equipment (Russian). We had the advantage in air power. Records reveal the so-called “Viet Cong” actually were largely NVA trained, not always the poor farmer that was depicted in the news media. You can not focus on one company, platoon or squad during battles as the news media did. It is the end result of the total mission that determines success or failure. Due to our strategy and aggressive tactics we were always successful in battle. By their own estimates we killed 1.2 million of their soldiers-far more than we estimated with the "evil" body count. Can you imagine the length of their war memorial wall? It became obvious that North Vietnamese men were going to war, never returning and families not notified. It was later shown that the NVA had a tremendous desertion problem and men doing all possible not to be drafted. The young men had a saying, “Born in the North to die in the South”. There was increasing unrest within North Vietnam because they had no access to the factual progress of the war. As in all Communist governments, they had no freedom of speech or press and they still do not. CBS “60 Minutes” verified during and after the war, the North Vietnamese government secretly hid the badly wounded soldiers from their families and the public because of the enormous casualty rate. The amputee soldier was confined to asylums away from the public. I do not know how long this disturbing policy was in effect. Throughout the war the North Vietnamese government had a detailed and systematic plan to execute and murder South Vietnamese citizens they deemed as threats. Also, Ho Chi Minh was absolutely vicious to the people in North Vietnam. R.J. Rummell estimates that from 1957 to 1975 the North Vietnamese government executed around 50,000 North Vietnamese civilians (most were executed by 1960). Source: R.J. Rummell (1997). "Vietnam Democide: Estimates, Sources & Calculations". North Vietnam’s brutality did not stop at the war’s end. An estimated 95,000 South Vietnamese civilians died in the communist “re-education” camps, another 500,000 were involved in forced labor projects, which killed 48,000 civilians. Another 100,000 were executed. Finally, 400,000 people died while trying to flee Vietnam. This does not include the unknown fate of thousands of indigent people enslaved for laborious work on the Ho Chi Minh trail throughout the war. I find it disturbing when everyone (seemingly) rips the USA apart because of the much publicized My Lai Massacre. Clearly this was committed by a few individuals and not US government and army policy. Some soldiers refused to participate and some simply walked away. This came to an end when other US troops protected the civilians. We that have never experienced the tremendous stress of war could never imagine committing such an act. This is not to be used as an excuse. What these few soldiers did was wrong. However, objectively speaking, this terrible event amounts to nothing, compared to the planned and premeditated slaughter of civilians, throughout the war by the North Vietnamese government and NVA official policy. In 1972 Nixon finally gave permission to the air force to conduct military bombing their way. This should have been done years earlier. In a matter of days the effect was so devastating that there literally were no more targets left to destroy in NV. All SAM sites destroyed and their entire missile supply depleted. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) did not dare make any movements. The civilians in Hanoi believed they were defeated, began hanging and waving white flags at U.S. planes. The NV politicians were so frightened that they quickly contacted the U.S. and signed the peace treaty. North Vietnam signed the peace treaty January 27, 1973. The last American troops left South Vietnam March 29, 1973. Two years later North Vietnam violated the peace treaty, invaded and defeated South Vietnam in 1975. This had nothing to do with us. The USA was long gone by then. Regarding the so-called “embassy evacuation” - this occurred in 1975, more than two years after all of our troops were gone. The scene was “the perception of defeat”. Perceptions do not make truth. The U.S. only had an embassy in South Vietnam (SV) after the war like any other country. It was staffed with the normal “handful” of Marines. The news media falsely connected this scene to the loss of the war. This event occurred more than two years after all of our military was gone and had nothing to do with the war that we had won. Yes, panicked South Vietnamese wanted to leave, knowing the fate that may await them. Actually, the NVA were under orders to halt all further advance into Saigon until the evacuation was complete. They had not forgotten the military might of the U.S. that nearly destroyed them during the war. They also knew our naval force was close and that the carrier alone had enough power to defeat them. Our one and only mistake was that we left South Vietnam after we overwhelmingly defeated North Vietnam. We stayed in Germany, Japan and South Korea. We left South Vietnam because of public sentiment based upon pseudo information. Which of these countries are better off? Which of these governments and countries would you now choose to live in? Americans always wanted to forget the war and most will never study what actually occurred. There are a few “objective” books written after the war, but I believe “Unheralded Victory” by Mark W. Woodruff is easiest to learn what really happened in Vietnam. This eye opening book was written in 1999. The book's data and sources come from American and Vietnamese well after the conflict to erase emotions and patriotism. has used ones available for very little cost. My guess is that once you read this book, you will be in awe of the veterans’ accomplishments, despite having to endure all the restrictions and ill-placed public negativity. In general, our nation and veterans have nothing to be ashamed of regarding our participation in the Vietnam War. Because of what our men in uniform endured from the enemy and the disgraceful attitude at home I consider the Vietnam veterans to be the "Greatest Generation of Soldiers".