Monday, April 17, 2017

Veterans Clinic Files Nationwide Class-Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Army Veterans

Two Army veterans, Steve Kennedy and Alicia Carson, filed a federal class-action lawsuit on Monday seeking relief for the thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions during their military service and received unfair less-than-Honorable discharges. The plaintiffs are represented by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

Since September 11, 2001, hundreds of thousands of veterans have received less-than-Honorable (“bad paper”) discharges imposing a lifetime stigma, impairing their employment prospects, and denying them access to critical government services, including the GI bill, mental health treatment, and disability benefits. Tens of thousands received these bad paper discharges as a result of misconduct attributable to conditions like PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

“As my PTSD became impossible to manage on my own, my commander told me that the only way I could receive treatment was by leaving the Army with a bad paper discharge,” said plaintiff Steve Kennedy, leader of the Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Just like that, the Army wiped away years of distinguished service to my country and deemed it less than Honorable.”

Even worse, after their discharge the Army regularly denies these veterans a second chance, according to the lawsuit. While Congress created an agency called the Army Discharge Review Board (ADRB) to help veterans upgrade their unjustly harsh discharges after returning to civilian life, the clinic said the ADRB has systematically failed veterans for decades.

“In 2014, the Department of Defense ordered the ADRB and other discharge review boards to take into account the role of PTSD and other mental health conditions in veterans’ discharges,” said Jonathan Petkun ’19, a law student in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. “But the ADRB routinely and callously denies veterans that raise mental health as a factor in their applications. This lawsuit seeks to compel the Army to live up to its obligations, fairly adjudicate PTSD applications, and to finally secure justice for the countless veterans whose honorable service to this country has gone unrecognized for too long.”

This cause is a matter of justice, plain and simple,” said Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, who attended a press conference at Yale Law School on Monday. “I strongly support this legal action to assure that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress receive the medical care and recognition they deserve. A lawsuit is necessary because the Pentagon is failing to adequately review bad paper discharges resulting from post-traumatic stress and other invisible wounds of War.‎ Having worked on this cause for years— helping lead legislation — I am proud to stand with these brave veterans.”

The lawsuit argues that the cost of this continuing refusal to reckon with the reality of mental illness in the military is more than unjustly denied benefits—it is a generation of lost promise and opportunity for countless soldiers suffering the invisible wounds of war sacrifice for their country.

The plaintiffs are represented by law student interns Mario Gazzola ’17, Jordan Goldberg ’19, Catherine McCarthy ’19, Jonathan Petkun ’19, and Helen White ’18. The supervising attorneys on the case are Visiting Clinical Lecturer in Law Margaret Kuzma, Clinical Lecturer in Law Aaron Wenzloff, and Professor Michael Wishnie ’93 of the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.