A U.S. Army veteran from Connecticut is one of the lead plaintiffs on a class-action federal lawsuit on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder that are seeking to have their general discharges upgraded.
“I spent 14 months in Iraq expecting that I was going to be blown up,” said Stephen Kennedy, of Fairfield, who developed PTSD while serving overseas. “And eventually when that explosion I was expecting still never came, I started to plan to take matters into my own hands.”
The army kicked the 30-year-old out after he went AWOL to attend his own wedding, he said Monday morning at a press conference at the Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.
“Already dealing with depression and then undiagnosed PTSD,” Kennedy recalled. “I was told my service was less than fully honorable.”
The complaint filed against the Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer argues that despite a 2014 Department of Defense order for the Army Discharge Review Board to give “liberal consideration” to veterans claiming their discharges were connected to PTSD or mental health, the ADRB is systematically failing veterans like Kennedy.
“Instead, the ADRB routinely and callously denies the upgrades to veterans who raise mental health as a factor in their applications,” said Jonathan Petkun, a veteran and law student in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
Kennedy filed an application to have his discharge upgraded in 2015, but his request was denied.
Conley Monk is one of the many Vietnam War veterans to suffer from PTSD. After waiting almost 45 years, his less than honorable discharge from the Marines was finally upgraded after the Yale Law School won a legal battle on behalf of Vietnam War veterans in 2014.
“It stigmatized me,” Monk said at the press conference. “It prevented me from getting housing, jobs and also services that I needed for my PTSD and I pray that everything works out for Steve.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the Senate Committee on Armed Services, pointed out that Kennedy and the plaintiffs are not seeking monetary compensation.
“This cause is a matter of justice, plain and simple,” Blumenthal said. “I strongly support this legal action to assure that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress receive the medical care and recognition they deserve. A lawsuit is necessary because the Pentagon is failing to adequately review bad paper discharges resulting from post-traumatic stress and other invisible wounds of war. Having worked on this cause for years-- helping lead legislation-- I am proud to stand with these brave veterans.”
A Department of Defense spokesperson said she could not comment on the pending litigation or Kennedy’s specific case. She said in an email that not providing sufficient evidence of a mental health diagnosis is one of the most common reason the ADRB denies a discharge upgrade.