Federal Court Approves Nationwide Class Action For Veterans with PTSD
A federal judge has certified a nationwide class-action lawsuit seeking relief for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or other mental health conditions, only to be unfairly labeled with a less-than-Honorable discharge. Tyson Manker, a Marine veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, filed this federal class-action lawsuit in March 2018 along with the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR), a Connecticut-based organization whose members include Marine Corps and other veterans with less-than-Honorable discharges. The plaintiffs are represented by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic and co-counsel Jenner & Block.
Since September 11, 2001, more than two million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Nearly a third of these servicemembers suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions, but the military continues to issue less-than-Honorable (“bad paper”) discharges at historically high rates, often for minor infractions that are attributable to undiagnosed mental health issues stemming from their military service, according to the lawsuit. When these veterans apply for a change in their discharge status to the Naval Discharge Review Board (NDRB), these former sailors and Marines are unlawfully denied. These denials defy recent Department of Defense policies meant to ease this process for veterans with PTSD and related conditions, the clinic said.
“This decision is a victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI who are denied the support of VA resources because of an unfair discharge status." — Plaintiff Tyson Manker
The newly certified class will consist of thousands of Marines and sailors who have or would be subjected to unfair procedures in front of the NDRB. In 2017, the Army and Air Force Discharge Review Boards granted approximately 51% of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD, while the NDRB granted a mere 16% of applications during the same period — a discrepancy that Senior District Judge Charles S. Haight described as “stark.” The Court also observed that veterans with bad paper are generally ineligible “for benefits like the GI Bill program, and, ironically, PTSD treatment from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”
“This decision is a victory for the tens of thousands of military veterans suffering from service-connected PTSD and TBI who are denied the support of VA resources because of an unfair discharge status,” said plaintiff Tyson Manker, who fought in the invasion of Iraq and is now an attorney and veterans’ advocate residing in Illinois. “The fact that the Court has now recognized this class of veterans is further evidence of the Department of Defense’s disgraceful violation of the legal rights of the men and women who have served their country.”
“This is the second nationwide class action certified in the nearly 30 year history of the Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School,” said law student intern, Samantha Peltz '20, “This suit represents an opportunity to obtain relief for thousands of men and women who bravely served our country and yet were unfairly denied by the NDRB.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73, who attended the press conference announcing the filing of the lawsuit in the spring, commented on the historic nature of this order. “Today’s decision is another step forward in seeking justice for all veterans suffering from PTSD. We owe it to veterans to treat the invisible wounds of war the same as physical ones,” said the Senator.
“We filed this lawsuit to make sure that the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with service-connected PTSD do not suffer the same injustices as the Vietnam generation,” added Garry Monk, Executive Director of NVCLR. Mr. Monk’s brother, Marine veteran Conley Monk, struggled for 44 years after his Vietnam service before finally receiving a discharge upgrade. “We are thrilled with the court’s decision and look forward to creating a world where it doesn’t take years of wading through unlawful procedures for these veterans to get relief.”
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic was founded in 2010 to train law students and to serve the legal needs of veterans. Under the supervision of clinical professors, Clinic students engage in litigation before administrative agencies and courts on a range of matters. The Clinic makes special efforts to assist vulnerable veteran populations and those least connected to existing service networks, such as women, recently returned, non-citizen, LGBT, and elderly veterans.