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.