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PTSD vets can now sue Navy, Marines over discharge status, loss of VA benefits

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard V. Spencer speaks with Sailors during a welcome aboard reception hosted by the Naval Historical Foundation. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Armando Gonzales/U.S. Navy)
November 19, 2018

A federal judge has ruled that veterans can sue the VA over service-related mental health conditions.

U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. of New Haven, Conn. Ruled in favor of a class-action lawsuit involving thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans again against Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, Business Insider reported Friday.

The lawsuit challenged the less-than-honorable discharge of thousands of veterans over minor violations related to undiagnosed mental health conditions, and the consequential denial of VA benefits.

“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 Marine Corps veteran Tyson Manker, who was named lead plaintiff in the case.

“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,” Manker added.

Manker himself received an other-than-honorable discharge after one incident in which he was found using an illegal drug as a form of self-medication for undiagnosed PTSD linked to his 2003 Iraq deployment.

He appealed his discharge decision, hoping to qualify for VA benefits, but the appeal was denied by the Naval Discharge Review Board.

Thousands more veterans have had identical experiences, and without VA benefits, their mental health conditions have gone untreated.

Manker and the thousands more involved in the class action suit were represented by Yale Law School students, who are also representing an identical case involving the Army.

Approximately one-third of over two million veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan developed PTSD or other mental health conditions.

A federal prosecutor in the class action lawsuit said that the plaintiffs could pursue appeals to upgrade their discharge statuses, citing new rules implemented last year which are supposed to loosen standards for those experiencing mental health conditions.

However, less-than-honorable discharges are said to be at a historical high, many of which are for minor violations linked to undiagnosed mental health conditions. The Navy only granted 16 percent of appeals to upgrade discharge status, while the Army and Air Force grant 51 percent.

“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,” said another plaintiff in the case, Garry Monk, who is the executive director of National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. The group consists of veterans who also have less-than-honorable discharges.

“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,” Monk added.