By | September 18, 2020

Part 1: JG’s Story, September 20, 1950 – May 20, 2020

By Deborah H. Karpatkin

Here is the story of JG, a Vietnam combat veteran, recently lost to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Part 1 tells JG’s story: his education, his Vietnam experience, and the aftermath. Part 2, in the next issue of On Watch, will review the legal arguments that ultimately proved successful in gaining JG upgrade to a fully honorable discharge

JG, a Black man with intellectual disabilities, was inducted into the Army and served honorably in Vietnam. He suffered service-connected PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Those injuries, along with his intellectual limitations, led to periods of AWOL, and he acquiesced in a dishonorable discharge, without understanding the life-long consequences. 

JG spent decades trying on his own to upgrade his discharge, without success. Eventually, he became a client of the NYC Veteran Advocacy Project. Their vigorous advocacy and representation resulted in JG receiving long-delayed veterans’ benefits, and VA-based treatment he sorely needed. He was referred to me as pro-bono counsel for representation in a discharge upgrade – to try to remove the stain of dishonor he had been carrying, unjustly, for decades.

This story had a happy ending. With the payment of accumulated VA benefits, JG was able to move from homelessness and illness, to decent medical care, marriage, and home ownership. In 2018, JG was awarded a fully honorable discharge, restoring honor and dignity to this very decent man.

JG took such joy in all that he had gained, but sadly not for very long. He was one of the many New Yorkers lost to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and died on May 20, 2020. 

Many of us know the stories of men who for reasons of conscience or politics refused to serve in Vietnam. Many were able to avoid military service. JG’s story is important for many reasons, not least because he was one of the men who served in their stead. In tribute to JG, and the many Vietnam Vets who suffered so many injustices, here is his story. 

JG Before the Army

 JG was born in 1950 and raised in the Bronx, New York, the only child of a single mother. He attended local public schools, in a class for “Children with Retarded Mental Development.” He completed high school in 1968. 

JG’s school records show that at age 12, his scores on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) were in the “low borderline” range of function. His Full Scale IQ of 72 was a full two standard deviations below average. The cut-off for being considered mentally retarded is 69, just a few points lower. At age 18 JG was reading only at an early third grade level. 

JG’s Induction [1]Military Aptitude Testing

JG was inducted in the Army despite failing the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). His AFQT score was 2 out of 100. This put him in AFQT Mental Group V, the lowest possible group. He nevertheless was “administratively accepted” for induction. JG’s extremely low JG’s AFQT score correlated to a Wechsler IQ of 80 and below, consistent with JG’s IQ tests from his school years.1 

The New Standards Program/Project 100,000

Despite his disqualifying AFQT scores, JG was accepted for induction. This was likely due to the Army’s then-operating “Project 100,000/New Standards Program.” Seeking to “broaden the manpower pool subject to the draft,” the New Standards Program, which ran from 1966 through December 1971, was intended to qualify 100,000 men a year who had failed mental and educational standards, primarily by lowering the test score and educational standards. Most “New Standards men” were destined for infantry.2 

No official paper formally designated JG as a “New Standards Man,” but the “administratively accepted” mark next to his AFQT Level V score suggests as much– especially because we know “Project 100,000” was in effect when JG was inducted.  

Even so, JG should have been ineligible for induction, because the New Standards Program allowed induction for those who scored “as low as the 10th percentile on the AFQT,” putting them in Mental Group IV. JG’s score of 2 was below the 10th percentile on the AFQT, in in Mental Group V.[2]  

JG’s test results on the Army Qualification Battery, AQB, were also far below standard, even for a “New Standards” man. The AQB “was developed in the early 1960’s to serve as a supplemental screening instrument” to administer to individuals in Mental Group IV, because it was easier. On some parts of the AQB test, JG had zero right answers. As he recalled, he couldn’t read the tests very well, and couldn’t understand them.[3]

The New Standards Program’s problems were evident. In line with JG’s experience, New Standards men had “higher incidence of non-judicial punishment and court-martial than the control group.”[4] Derisively called the “Moron Corps” by some, one recent critic described it as “a one-way ticket to

Vietnam, where these men fought and died in disproportionate numbers…the men of the ‘Moron Corps’ provided the necessary cannon fodder to help evade the political horror of dropping student deferments or calling up the reserves, which were sanctuaries for the lily-white.”[5] As described by

one court, “Project 100,000 … has been severely criticized,” noting that, according to “[c]ritics … Project 100,000 enlistees were the first to be sent to Vietnam, the last to be promoted, and received more than their share of bad discharges.”[6] Another court noted the “tragic consequences” of the departure from normal induction standards.8 

For JG, the “tragic consequence” was his dishonorable discharge, imposed notwithstanding his evident intellectual limitations and other mitigating circumstances. 

Fort Dix

JG reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey on April 13, 1970, and was assigned a Military Occupation

Specialty (MOS) of Light Weapons Infantry/Machine Gunner, 11B20. He was then sent to a Leader Preparation Course at Fort Polk Academy. JG was unable to complete the course, for academic reasons. He couldn’t read a compass or a map. 

Vietnam 

After completing his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Polk, JG was sent to Vietnam. His principal duty was as a machine gunner. He was reassigned to the 101st Airborne, 501st Delta Company, 1st Battalion, in January 1971. He served during the Counteroffensive Phase VII. 

Despite the intensity of the violence and trauma he experienced in Vietnam, JG performed his duties honorably. He had no behavioral problems during training or in Vietnam and was promoted to the grade/rank of SP 4. His was commended for “excellent conduct and efficiency,” and awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and One Overseas Bar.

Vietnam Booby-Traps 

JG experienced a number of profoundly traumatic combat events in Vietnam. Most significantly, his Army buddy saved his life at the expense of his own. His buddy pushed JG out of the way of a booby trap, causing his own gruesome death: pinned against a tree, his body riddled with bamboo poles. JG pulled out the poles and carried his buddy’s body back to the base. JG never stopped blaming himself for his buddy’s death. JG never stopped believing it was he who was meant to die, and not his buddy. 

In another profoundly traumatic combat event, JG was forced to shoot at and kill a young boy who was coming towards his company. The boy was saying friendly words, “GI number one” – but wouldn’t stop on command. JG had no choice but to shoot the boy, and he did. The boy exploded: he was another booby trap. 

Return to Fort Dix, New MOS beyond his Ability 

JG returned to Fort Dix in July 1971, five months before his 12-month Vietnam tour was to end, due to his mother’s poor health. Without any specific training, he was assigned as a Correction Specialist, (MOS 95C20), attached to the 532nd Military Police Company at Fort Dix.  JG tried hard, but this job was far beyond his abilities. It required a lot of reading and writing, and his reading and writing were very poor. 

Inevitably, with no training and Grade V mental qualifications, JG was confronted by challenges he could not meet. Compounding the challenge, JG never received any training as a Corrections Specialist. Indeed, with his Mental Group V classification and third grade reading level, JG would likely have fared very poorly in any training as a Corrections Specialist. 

JG was also dealing with the traumas of his Vietnam combat experience. His buddy’s death weighed on him. He stuck to himself. He didn’t want to talk to people. It was on his mind all the time. It interfered with how he did his duties. He would burst out crying. He had bad dreams.

A few weeks into his new assignment, JG issued a traffic ticket to a young lady, who turned out to be a general officer’s daughter. Shortly after, he was relieved from his status; records reflecting state no reason. JG was reassigned to the prison guard towers. 

Mother Very Sick, and JG Denied Leave: Another Booby Trap

At around this same time, JG’s commanding officer denied JG’s leave request to care for his dangerously ill mother. With his intellectual limitations, JG lacked the sophistication or insight to understand that he could appeal this decision by requesting compassionate leave or a hardship discharge. Instead, JG left Fort Dix to care for his mother, without authorization. 

JG was absent for 20 days. He voluntarily turned himself in and returned to Fort Dix. His punishment was restriction to company area, assignment to unit duties, and reduction in grade. 

For JG, this was another booby trap. He did the right thing, by making an arrest as best as he knew how, and asking for leave, as best as he knew how, given his intellectual limitations. Seeing no options, he left to do the right thing: take care of his mother. And yet, he was punished.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Responding to Buddy in Trouble, and Another Booby-Trap

About two months later, JG was returned to duty. While on duty, he heard a radio call that a fellow MP was in trouble. JG had a strong emotional, instinctive impulse to respond to this MP in trouble, remembering his buddy’s sacrifice to save his life. He drove a Jeep without authorization and did not follow an order directing him not to respond. While rushing to the MP’s aid, he overturned the Jeep, and was flung from the vehicle. 

When the Jeep overturned, JG sustained a concussion, which would now be called a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was hospitalized for 13 days. The accident was deemed line of duty.

Contemporaneous medical records confirm head trauma, cerebral concussion, cervical sprain, contusions, amnesia for recent and past events, headaches, and possible conversion hysteria. 

The head trauma from this accident compounded JG’s post-Vietnam difficulties. As he described it: “After it happened, I didn’t know where I was, or even my name.  I didn’t recognize the company commander. I had amnesia, memory loss. I couldn’t remember things about Vietnam, or even my birthday. I was upset and confused when I was discharged from the hospital. I still didn’t feel well. I still had some amnesia. I had headaches. After I was discharged from the hospital I was frightened.” Studies show that behavior disorders, sometimes termed “hysteria,” can follow brain injury.[7]  For JG, the TBI, overlaying the trauma from his Vietnam combat experience, had significant consequences. In his mind, he had done the right thing, coming to the aid of the MP, as his buddy had come to his aid. And yet, here was another booby trap – he was going to be charged with misconduct, again, for doing what, in his best judgment, was the right thing. 

Overwhelmed by the TBI, the PTSD, and with limited intellectual capacity to properly assess his options, JG got word that his mother was again very sick, and, when leave was again denied, he went home to care for her. 

As JG explained in his first effort to get a discharge upgrade, in 1975: his “mother was ill and she was getting worser and I had a phone call from her that she said the doctor told her that she wasn’t expected to live too long, so, again, I went to my CO and asked for another leave and I gave the note that the doctor sent me, and again he refused to let me go home and see my mother, so he told me at this present time, in front of the first sergeant, ‘do anything you want to do.’ So, I proceeded that same night to pack my duffle bag and leave post without proper permission or proper leave.”

An only child, JG’s mother’s health warranted compassionate leave, or even a discharge on hardship grounds. A soldier with more intellectual capacity would have known how to appeal the CO’s refusal of leave. But JG did not have that capacity. 

JG took care of his mother, and she got better. He got a minimum wage, low-level security guard job to support her, because she was too sick to work.  The job did not require him to read or write. He was absent for a total of 449 days, and voluntarily turning himself in to the FBI. He was charged with an unauthorized absence under UCMJ Article 84 – Absence without Leave.

It is important to note the marked difference in JG’s military conduct before and after the emotional trauma and head injury. Before, while on combat assignment, JG had an excellent conduct record, including promotions and awards, and no reported history of difficulty following orders. After, he had difficulty coping, was experiencing ongoing symptoms from the head injury and trauma, and could not cope with the rules and requirements of military service, leading to the Article 84 violations. 

JG’s OTH Discharge: The Army Improperly Fails to Counsel JG and He Signs Papers He Cannot Read or Understand.

Upon his return to base, JG faced punishment for the AWOL. He feared retribution in the stockade, where he had been on guard duty.

JG learned that he would be able to leave Army service and go home to his mother, with a discharge “for the good of the service,” pursuant to AR 635-200. The records show no lawyer representing JG, and no evidence that JG was provided counsel sufficient help him understand to the rights he was forfeiting. The records show no indication that the person processing JG’s discharge took into account his intellectual limitations, his limited reading ability, his head injury, or the trauma he experienced in Vietnam and their likely contribution to his misconduct.

JG explained, “The JAG lawyer wrote the papers, and I signed it. I didn’t read it, because it was too hard for me, and he didn’t read it to me.” This is even after, as JG explained, “I told him that I couldn’t read well” and that “I only have third grade.” 

Indeed, in the professional opinion of a clinical neuro-psychologist who reviewed JG’s educational and TBI records, JG “may not have had the intellectual capacity to comprehend a complex legal document at baseline; that is, prior to his traumatic brain injury. She noted that “following a traumatic brain injury, it is even more likely that JG would not have had the capacity to understand such a document and to appreciate the consequences of signing same.”

JG’s discharge paperwork omits any reference to his valiant and honorable service in Vietnam, to the terrible trauma JG experienced in Vietnam, to the Jeep accident and concussion, or to his fear of the stockade. Evidently, the JAG attorney assigned to processing the paperwork performed only the most cursory interview and made no effort to understand the full facts behind JG’s circumstances.  

The JAG attorney’s certification claims to have provided JG with a list of benefits he would be losing, but significantly, no such list appears in JG’s record, JG recalls receiving no such list, and in any event he could not have read it. 

JG was issued an OTH discharge and was reduced in rank from SP4 to E1. 

Ironically, at the time of his discharge, JG was within days of fulfilling his two-year service requirement. His had no misconduct attributable to violence or drug use. He had a record of valiant and honorable Vietnam service, and awards and decorations. The question must be asked why a service member who returned from combat service in Vietnam with a clean record, and soon to be discharged, would be absent for such a long period of time, ruining his otherwise meritorious military record, unless something was profoundly wrong with his health, and his cognitive ability? 

After Dishonorable Discharge: Downward Spiral, with the OTH “Like a Leech” on JG’s back.

After his discharge, JG returned to New York, to live with his mother. He tried to get a government job, but couldn’t even get a government job “cleaning a toilet bowl” because of the OTH characterization of discharge in his DD-214. He worked the best he could, at low level, low paid security jobs, construction, and maintenance. 

For JG, the OTH discharge was “like a leech” on his back. Along with his poor health, especially the PTSD, it was hard for him to get or keep a decent job. Like many Vietnam veterans, he had problems with substance abuse, and his life went downhill. He became unable to work. Because of the OTH discharge, he was ineligible for VA benefits. He became homeless.

Despite the challenges of his life, JG found the strength to overcome adversity. He took some literacy classes, and his reading got a little better. He entered a substance abuse treatment program, and with diligent effort, ended his dependence on illegal drugs and alcohol. 

Discharge Upgrade Efforts

JG tried for more than 40 years to upgrade his discharge. 

In 1975, The Army Discharge Review Board (ADRB) heard evidence that JG was “[unable] to control stress … pushed him over the hill, so to speak, so that he incurred this long period of AWOL,” and also referred to it being “incurred in fear.” These are, of course, significant symptoms and indicators of PTSD. The ADRB denied his appeal. 

JG persisted, without the help of counsel or representative. In 1977, he wrote to the Review Board about the hardship he faced because of his bad discharge: “I do not have a criminal record. And I can’t get a good steady job.” In 2007, he asked for an upgrade “to restore my sanity.” In 2008, he wrote explicitly about his Vietnam trauma: “I had seen things I never seen before examples such as seeing dead bodies, smelling bodies and sleeping with dead bodies. Just to survive. It took a mental and physicology [sic] effect on me. Effects like flashback, hearing voices which continue been [sic] a danger to myself and others.”  JG also explained that he went home to care for his mother “because of a mental problem I was going through at the time I was confused.” “I didn’t know the right protocol at the time.” In 2009, JG requested reopening of his case, and in 2011, he submitted another application for discharge review, noting that he was “being treated at an outside facility for my illness which as [sic] affected me after leaving Vietnam such as Flashback and hearing voices.”  

All JG’s upgrade requests were denied. In the last denial, in 2011, the Army Review Boards Agency noted JG’s prior denials, returned his request without action, and stated that the ABCMR “will not consider any further requests for reconsideration of this matter.” 

JG remained ashamed of his discharge, even after he began to receive VA benefits. He wanted the discharge upgrade to redress this nearly half-century injustice. In his words: 

My service in Vietnam was honorable. I did all the duties asked of me. I risked my life for my country. I killed other people for my country. My buddy … died for me. I carry all those wounds, to this day. But my country calls my service “other than honorable” and I carry the black mark of that label to this day.  I want that black mark removed, and all that comes with it. 

I gave my best effort to the Army. I worked hard and served my country. I didn’t come into the Army with the same ability as the others. My test scores weren’t good and I didn’t read or write very well. I did the best I could with my limitations. 

Characterizing my discharge as honorable will restore my honor and give me some measure of the dignity I feel I should have because I served my country. It will especially help me because my Vietnam service caused me PTSD. Even with treatment, this is a daily hardship for me. 

Because of the other than honorable discharge, I was never able to get a good job. I’ve lived a life of financial hardship. I served my country fair and square and did the best I could. I think it’s only fair that I should have all the benefits that come with an honorable discharge.”

Deborah H. Karpatkin is a civil rights and employment rights lawyer in New York City.

Part 2 of this article, in the next issue of On Watch, will continue to tell JG’s story, focusing on the investigative, strategic, and litigation steps taken to achieve the successful upgrade to a Fully Honorable Discharge.


[1] September 1980 Memo from A.J. Martin, Director, Accession Policy to Mr. Danzig, with attachment, found at https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/MG265/images/webG1471.pdf.  2 Hsiao, Lisa (1989) “Project 100,000:”The Great Society’s Answer to Military Manpower Needs in Vietnam,” Vietnam Generation: Vol. 1, Art. 4, found at:

http://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=vietnamgeneration, and Project 100,000, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_100,000.  

[2] Project 100,000 New Standards Program, found at http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/MG265/images/webG1318.pdf. 

[3] Research Memorandum 68-9, “Relationship Between AQB and ACP Scores, U.S. Army Behavioral Science

Research Laboratory, July 1968, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a079337.pdf, at 1, 4 

[4] Research Memorandum 68-9, Id. at 8 

[5] MacPherson, Myra, “McNamara’s Other Crimes: The Stories You Haven’t Heard” The Washington Monthly, June 1995, at 28.

[6] Henry v. Dep’t of Nav. Bd. for Correction of Naval Records, 755 F. Supp. 1442, 1443 at FN 1 (E.D. Ark. 1991).  8 United States v. Chappell, 19 U.S.C.M.A. 236, 238 (1970). 

[7] See, Eames, Peter, “Hysteria following Brain Injury,” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 1992; 55:1046-1053.