NEW HAVEN -- Through the efforts of a Yale Law School clinic, more than 50,000 U.S. Army veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a newly certified class-action lawsuit that challenges the less than honorable discharges they received.
A federal judge Friday certified the suit for those veterans who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury or other mental health conditions in the service, and subsequently were pushed out for infractions that could be attributable to undiagnosed mental health problems stemming from their military service.
Steve Kennedy and Alicia Carson, Army veterans who served at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, were the named plaintiffs in the April 2017 suit on behalf of themselves and tens of thousands of others who have been similarly affected in order to ensure fair treatment when veterans apply to have these service characterizations changed.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic and co-counsel at Jenner & Block.
Since September 2001, more than 2 million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nearly a third of them 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, the suit states.
Such characterizations often impose a lifetime of stigma, impair veterans' employment prospects, and deny veterans access to critical government services such as the GI bill, disability benefits and mental health treatment.
Although the Army Discharge Review Board promises these veterans a path to correct unjustly harsh discharges, the ADRB frequently denies claims in defiance of recent Department of Defense policies intended to ease this process for veterans with service-connected PTSD and related conditions, according to the plaintiffs.
"This decision means that thousands of service members who have been denied the support of VA resources because of an unfair discharge status may have another chance at relief," said Kennedy, who served in Iraq and is a founder of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
"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 as a result of their sacrifice for country," Kennedy said.
The decision follows another recent one approving a nationwide class-action lawsuit of Marine and Navy veterans against the Naval Discharge Review Board, which is also pending in the District of Connecticut.
"Almost five years ago, the Department of Defense ordered the Army and other service branches to take into account the role that PTSD and other mental health conditions play in veterans' discharges," said Jordan Goldberg, a law student in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
"But the ADRB continues callously to dismiss veterans' claims in open defiance of these rules. This lawsuit is about holding the Army to its commitments and securing justice for the veterans whose honorable service has gone unrecognized for too long," Goldberg said in a statement.
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