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Firm Earns Pro Bono Victory for Vietnam Vet

January 30, 2023
Federal Circuit decision has broad implications for veterans with PTSD seeking benefits.

Latham & Watkins and the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) secured a major victory in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on behalf of Robert Doyon, a US Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War. The Federal Circuit not only reversed the decision below, but also adopted a broad rule that will significantly help veterans seeking medical retirement related to combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mr. Doyon served honorably in the Navy at the height of the Vietnam war. But after he acquired debilitating PTSD from the traumatic events he experienced during his deployments, the Navy discharged him for an alleged “personality disorder” — despite the complete lack of evidence supporting that diagnosis. Because the Navy discharged Mr. Doyon on this basis, he did not receive medical retirement, and he was stigmatized by the inaccurate diagnosis in his discharge record.

What happened to Mr. Doyon has happened to many other veterans, especially veterans who were discharged before recent advances in the understanding of PTSD. In recognition of that fact, both Congress and the US Department of Defense (DOD) imposed a requirement that the military provide “liberal consideration” to veterans seeking changes to their discharge status related to combat-induced PTSD. In Mr. Doyon’s case, however, the Navy successfully argued before the trial court that the statute and DOD guidance requiring liberal consideration do not apply to veterans seeking medical retirement.

In Doyon v. United States, the Federal Circuit reversed the decision below and held that the Navy was required to apply liberal consideration to applications, like Mr. Doyon’s, that seek medical retirement due to combat-induced PTSD. In reaching that conclusion, the Federal Circuit separately addressed the statute and the DOD guidance, concluding that they both independently require liberal consideration. The case has been remanded for application of liberal consideration to Mr. Doyon’s medical retirement claim. 

“This decision is critically important, not only for Mr. Doyon, but also for all veterans who have suffered PTSD and been wrongly discharged on some other basis,” said Washington, D.C. associate Michael Clemente, who argued the case before the Court. “We are grateful for the Court’s ruling, and we appreciate the opportunity to assist Mr. Doyon in pursuing the benefits he is entitled to receive.”

In addition to Michael Clemente, the Latham team included partners Adam Greenfield and Eugene Elrod.

To learn more about this work, please see “Vietnam Veteran Wins Appellate Ruling that Compels Liberal Consideration for Medical Retirement Claims” in Attorney at Law magazine or listen to this podcast featuring Esther Leibfarth, senior staff attorney at NVLSP, discussing Latham’s pro bono commitment to veterans and long-standing partnership with NVLSP.