On November 16, the firm won a pro bono victory on behalf of thousands of veterans when a judge certified a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) and the US Department of Defense. The lawsuit challenges the NDRB’s process for granting upgrades when a veteran has been given a “less-than-honorable,” or “bad paper,” discharge. Acting as co-counsel with Yale Law School’s Legal Services Organization Veterans Clinic, the firm represents veterans who say they were denied the upgrade because they had undiagnosed mental health issues, such as PTSD.
The newly certified class in Manker v. Spencer will consist of thousands of Marines or sailors who have or would be subjected to unfair procedures in front of the NDRB. The veterans seek a change in their review process.
Since 2001, more than 2 million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and nearly a third of them suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions, according to a press release issued by Yale about the judge’s decision. In 2014, the Defense Department ordered the US armed services to consider PTSD as a mitigating factor in the misconduct that causes bad paper discharges. But in 2017, the Navy review board granted upgrades to only 16 percent of applications—far fewer than the approximately 51 percent of upgrades given by Army and Air Force review boards, according to the press release.
Veterans who suffer from mental health conditions were not only denied upgrades to their discharges, but that denial “affected their eligibility for benefits like the GI Bill program, and, ironically, PTSD treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” wrote Judge Haight of the Connecticut district court.
The team included Partners Jeremy M. Creelan and Susan J. Kohlmann and Associates Jeremy H. Ershow and Jessica A. Martinez. In 2015, the New York Law Journal named Mr. Creelan among the “Lawyers Who Lead by Example,” in part because of his work on this case.
Several media outlets, including Law360, covered the judge's decision.