Federal Court Rejects Motion to Dismiss in Veterans Clinic Class Action

View of YLS building and stonework owl

On November 7, 2019, a federal judge denied the Secretary of the Navy’s request to dismiss a nationwide class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan Navy and Marine Corps veterans. These veterans, who unfairly received less-than-Honorable discharges, have symptoms of service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, or other mental health conditions. In addition to denying the government’s motion, Senior Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. of the District of Connecticut ordered the case to proceed to discovery. He also directed the Navy to reconsider the requests to upgrade to Honorable the discharge characterizations of plaintiff Tyson Manker and of John Doe, a member of organizational plaintiff National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR).

The plaintiffs in this case are represented jointly by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic and Jenner & Block LLP.

In March 2018, Manker, a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and NVCLR filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of former Marines and sailors with less-than-Honorable (“bad paper”) discharges. The lawsuit seeks to ensure the fair treatment of veterans when they apply to have their service characterizations changed.

“Today’s ruling, in time for Veterans Day, reaffirms the rule of law and brings us one step closer to getting justice for every veteran who was unfairly dismissed from the military with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma, and denied their honorable discharge,” said Manker.

The government advanced multiple arguments that, as the Court summarized, “seem to relate exclusively to the individual circumstances of Tyson Manker and John Doe.” But Judge Haight rejected these contentions, emphasizing that in fact thousands of veterans would likely be affected by the litigation: “Manker and Doe play important roles in this opera, but there are other soloists, a chorus, and a full orchestra — a fair analogy, given that the Court has certified a class of Navy and Marine Corps veterans…”

“As many as one-third of the more than two million men and women who have served since September 11, 2001, suffer from PTSD or other mental health conditions in relation to their service. Many of these veterans obtain less-than-Honorable discharges, often for minor infractions related to their mental health,” said Garry Monk, Executive Director of NVCLR. “Veterans with ‘bad paper’ are often cut off from the very benefits that would allow them to successfully transition back to civilian life, and instead suffer a lifetime of stigma, barriers to employment, and ineligibility for crucial state and federal benefits.”

“When veterans seek to correct these unjust discharges, the Navy denies the vast majority of their applications, contrary to statute and to Department of Defense policies designed to provide relief to veterans with service-related PTSD and other conditions,” said Samantha Peltz ’20, a law student intern in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “Despite its claims of improved compliance with Defense policies, over the past two years, the Navy has granted less than 20% of discharge upgrades for applicants with mental health claims. The Court’s decision today is another step towards justice for veterans who served their country and came home only to face daunting hurdles in seeking care for the wounds of war.”

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, represents veterans and veterans organizations in national litigation and regulatory and legislative reform efforts.