Friday, October 27, 2017

Veteran with PTSD Sues Army, Receives Honorable Discharge

On October 23, 2017, Veteran Alicia Carson received an honorable discharge from the military eight months after filing a lawsuit challenging the Army’s handling of discharge upgrade applications for veterans with PTSD. Carson, a native of Southington, CT, and Steve Kennedy, of Fairfield, CT, had filed a proposed nationwide class action lawsuit back in April with representation from Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

Carson grew up in Southington, CT, and attended Naugatuck Valley Community College. Inspired by her grandparents, who volunteered to serve in the Army during World War II, Carson enlisted in the National Guard in 2008. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. During her service, Carson quickly proved herself an excellent gunner and was sought out by a special forces unit. Over 300 days in Afghanistan, she carried out more than 100 missions as the only female gunner in an infantry battalion.

“This decision is welcome, but too many of my friends and fellow veterans continue to be denied this justice. I hope the Court will continue to hold the Army accountable,” said Carson. “It shouldn’t take five years, a small army of lawyers, and a class action lawsuit to get the Army to follow their own rules in order to help veterans with PTSD.”

Carson and Kennedy are two of the hundreds of thousands of Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans who have received less-than-honorable (“bad-paper”) discharges, according to the clinic. These discharges impose a lifetime of stigma, impair employment prospects, and preclude access to critical government benefits, including mental health treatment, disability benefits, and the GI Bill. Thousands of veterans have received these bad-paper discharges because of misconduct attributable to conditions like PTSD and traumatic brain injury, which are rarely diagnosed or treated during military service, according to the lawsuit.

Recognizing that many discharges may be unduly harsh, Congress established the Army Discharge Review Board (“ADRB”) to enable veterans to upgrade their discharges after leaving the Army. But ADRB, flouting this mission, continually ignores directives from the Secretary of Defense and arbitrarily and capriciously denies meritorious applications, students from the clinic said.

The Army’s recognition of Carson’s honorable service comes after she and Kennedy filed a federal lawsuit. Earlier this year, the federal court denied the Army’s request to dismiss the suit and remanded the applications of both veterans for Army reconsideration.

Kennedy is still awaiting the outcome of the Army’s review.

“Although I'm glad the Army has been compelled to reconsider our cases, thousands of other veterans are still dealing with the same problem that we are,” said Kennedy, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the leader of the Connecticut Chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

 “Now that the Army has admitted that Alicia's discharge characterization was unjust, how many others would be upgraded if they were afforded the same review? If they have to wait a few years for the next lawsuit to spark progress, how many will die in the meantime? This issue will not be settled until the Army systematically affords justice to all veterans whose service-connected mental health issues may have impacted their discharges.”

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.

“It is heartening to see justice done for Alicia,” said Helen White ’18, a law student intern in Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “But there are thousands of veterans, including Steve, whose honorable service the Army still refuses to recognize.”