Navy to Reconsider Discharges in Vets Clinic Class Action
In a victory for the Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC), the Department of the Navy has agreed to review the discharges of thousands of Veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), and other behavioral or mental health conditions. The agreement follows a settlement reached in the nationwide class action lawsuit Manker v. Del Toro. A federal court preliminarily approved the agreement on Oct. 12, 2021.
Under the agreement, the Navy will automatically reconsider certain discharge-status-upgrade decisions made by the Naval Discharge Review Board between March 2, 2012, and the effective date of settlement, according to an announcement by the clinic. Those previous decisions partially or fully denied upgrade relief to Navy and Marine Corps veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan era with general or other than honorable discharges. The settlement also expands reapplication rights for eligible applicants who were discharged and received an adverse decision from the board between Oct. 7, 2001 and March 2, 2012.
“This settlement, if finally approved by the Court, will give thousands of wrongfully discharged veterans experiencing PTSD, TBI, and other mental health conditions the dignity, respect, and benefits they deserve,” said Brandon Baum ’23, a student in the clinic.
In addition, the Navy has agreed to implement a program enabling applicants to appear before the review board by video teleconference, more training for board members, and updated protocols for decision-making in cases involving symptoms or diagnoses of PTSD, TBI, MST, and other behavioral or mental health conditions.
The lawsuit was first filed in March 2018. In November 2018, Senior Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the District of Connecticut approved the nationwide class action. In 2019, Haight denied the Navy’s request to dismiss the lawsuit and ordered the case to proceed to discovery.
Nearly a dozen Yale Law School students have worked on the case since its beginning.
“This settlement comes after over three years of litigation,” said Baum. “It’s really exciting to see all that effort lead to meaningful change for so many veterans.”
The current case represents the latest in a series of actions brought by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic against other branches of the military on behalf of veterans who unfairly received less-than-Honorable discharges. A federal court granted final approval of a settlement reached in a nationwide class action lawsuit against the U.S. Army on April 26, 2021. The clinic is also litigating a new federal class action filed on behalf of thousands of Air Force veterans who were separated less than Honorably from the military.
A decision on whether to grant final approval of the settlement will come in a hearing on Dec. 16, 2021.
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, represents veterans and veterans’ organizations in individual and national litigation and regulatory and legislative reform efforts.