A federal judge has given the go-ahead to a lawsuit by a veteran from Connecticut who wants the military to upgrade his “bad conduct” discharge, claiming his actions were caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Army had attempted have the case of William Dolphin, a disabled Vietnam combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, thrown out of court. But in a 10-page ruling, U.S. District Senior Judge Warren Eginton ruled that Dolphin, who is being represented by Yale Law School students, could proceed with his challenge to the Army’s refusal to consider his application for a discharge upgrade.
Dolphin entered the Army at age 18 and served in the Vietnam War. According to a news release from the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, Dolphin suffered life-threatening injuries during an intense firefight after he climbed a tree to scout enemy positions. Mortar fire blew him out of the tree and knocked him unconscious. He awoke unable to feel or move his limbs.
The injuries caused Dolphin to be evacuated from Vietnam and he was eventually transferred to a hospital in Queens, N.Y., where he was awarded the Purple Heart. From Queens, he returned home to New Haven to convalesce. Years later, he was arrested, charged with being absent without leave, and received a bad conduct discharge.
In 2011, Dolphin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury, neither of which the Army had considered at the time of his discharge. He immediately applied to the Army to upgrade his discharge to honorable. The Army refused to look at Dolphin’s application, according to the Yale students.
In this lawsuit, Dolphin v. McHugh, Dolphin is asking the U.S. District Court in Connecticut to order the Army to upgrade his discharge status and relieve him of the stigma of a bad discharge.
Dolphin’s legal effort has attracted some high-profile supporters, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“The court has provided Mr. Dolphin – and many other Vietnam veterans like him – a critical right to court review of his discharge status,” Blumenthal said in a prepared statement. “The military should correct a horrible injustice to our Vietnam veterans and recognize, as they do for today’s active military, that PTSD is a condition that some veterans have as a result of their service to our country.”
Abigail Graber, a law student intern with the Yale clnic, said that Egington’s decision will ensure that Dolphin has his day in court. “It’s shameful that the Army has refused to even look at the evidence that this veteran was wrongfully court-martialed while suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, including PTSD and a brain injury.”