Tens of thousands of American military veterans with mental health issues were unfairly given less-than-honorable discharges, barring them from accessing Veterans Affairs benefits, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
“The American public needs to know that hundreds of thousands of military veterans with service-connected PTSD … are being denied support and VA resources because of an unfair discharge status,” said ex-Marine Tyson Manker, who filed the suit.
According to a news report from the Stars & Stripes:
By the age of 21, Marine Corps Cpl. Tyson Manker led infantrymen into battle in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His actions as a Marine garnered him the Presidential Unit Citation and other awards, yet the military doesn’t consider his service as honorable.
Manker endured intense combat, saw civilians killed and witnessed the death of a close friend – experiences that caused nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that only worsened when he returned home.
Later that year while on leave, Manker was caught with marijuana, which he used to self-medicate. He was kicked out of the Marine Corps for misconduct with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Manker, now a 36-year-old lawyer in Illinois, filed the class-action suit in federal court in Connecticut. The veterans are represented by students with Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which filed a similar lawsuit against the Army last year, according to the Associated Press.
Since September 11, 2001, more than two million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Nearly a third of these service members suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions, but the military continues to issue less-than-honorable (“bad paper”) discharges at historically high rates, often for minor infractions that are attributable to undiagnosed mental health issues, according to the lawsuit.
When these veterans apply for a change in their discharge characterization to the Naval Discharge Review Board (NDRB) — which handles applications from former sailors and Marines — these veterans are unlawfully denied without the benefit of Department of Defense policies meant to ease this process, according to the lawsuit.
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Nearly a third of the more than 2 million Americans who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and related mental-health conditions. The less-than-honorable discharges received are often attributable to those mental health issues.
“We’re in a system of punishing those who serve on the frontlines,” said Manker, who has been haunted by his other-than-honorable status for years. “My hope with this is that the discharge review board will start following the law, plain and simple,” Manker said. “It’s about principle. It’s about restoring honor.”
The suit has the potential to include tens of thousands of veterans.