On November 7, a Jenner & Block team secured a significant pro bono victory on behalf of thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans when a federal judge rejected the Secretary of the Navy’s request to dismiss a nationwide class action against the Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) and the US Department of Defense for issuing less-than-honorable discharges to veterans suffering from undiagnosed PTSD.
In addition to denying the government’s motion, Senior Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. of the District of Connecticut ordered the case to proceed discovery and directed the Navy to reconsider the requests to upgrade to Honorable the discharge characterizations of firm client Tyson Manker and of John Doe, a member of the organizational plaintiff National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR).
“Today’s ruling, in time for Veterans Day, reaffirms the rule of law and brings us one step closer to getting justice for every veteran who was unfairly dismissed from the military with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma, and denied their honorable discharge,” said Manker in a press release announcing the judge’s order to proceed.
In March 2018, Manker, a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and NVCLR filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of former Marines and sailors suffering from PTSD, who were unfairly dismissed from the military and denied their honorable discharge. The lawsuit seeks to ensure the fair treatment of veterans who have or would be subjected to unfair procedures during the review process in front of the NDRB.
On November 16, 2018, a judge certified the class action against the NDRB and US Department of Defense. The government went on to advance multiple arguments that, as the Court summarized, “seem to relate exclusively to the individual circumstances of Tyson Manker and John Doe.” But Judge Haight rejected these contentions, emphasizing that in fact thousands of veterans would likely be affected by the litigation: “Manker and Doe play important roles in this opera, but there are other soloists, a chorus, and a full orchestra—a fair analogy, given that the Court has certified a class of Navy and Marine Corps veterans…”
“As many as one-third of the more than two million men and women who have served since September 11, 2001, suffer from PTSD or other mental health conditions in relation to their service. Many of these veterans obtain less-than-Honorable discharges, often for minor infractions related to their mental health,” said Garry Monk, executive director of NVCLR. “Veterans with ‘bad paper’ are often cut off from the very benefits that would allow them to successfully transition back to civilian life, and instead suffer a lifetime of stigma, barriers to employment, and ineligibility for crucial state and federal benefits.”
“When veterans seek to correct these unjust discharges, the Navy denies the vast majority of their applications, contrary to statute and to Department of Defense policies designed to provide relief to veterans with service-related PTSD and other conditions,” said Samantha Peltz, a law student intern in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “Despite its claims of improved compliance with Defense policies, over the past two years, the Navy has granted less than 20% of discharge upgrades for applicants with mental health claims. The court’s decision today is another step towards justice for veterans who served their country and came home only to face daunting hurdles in seeking care for the wounds of war.”
Acting as co-counsel with Yale Law School’s Legal Services Organization Veterans Clinic, Jenner & Block represents veterans who say they were denied the Honorable upgrade because they had undiagnosed mental health issues, such as PTSD. Associates Jessica A. Martinez and Jeremy H. Ershow have led the firm team since the complaint was filed in early 2018. Associate Nicole Taykhman also made the oral argument in federal court on the motion. They are overseen by Partners Susan J. Kohlmann and Jeremy M. Creelan.