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A U.S. Marine combat engineer takes cover in Marjah, Afghanistan. Navy officials have agreed to review and potentially upgrade thousands of discharge cases for Navy and Marine Corps veterans who struggled with PTSD and other mental health conditions following their service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A U.S. Marine combat engineer takes cover in Marjah, Afghanistan. Navy officials have agreed to review and potentially upgrade thousands of discharge cases for Navy and Marine Corps veterans who struggled with PTSD and other mental health conditions following their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Bruno J. Bego/Marine Corps)

The U.S. Navy has agreed to review more than nine years’ worth of “bad paper” discharges given to thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or certain other trauma-related health conditions.

That announcement follows preliminary court approval Tuesday of a settlement of a 2018 lawsuit alleging that a Navy board had improperly denied a Marine Corps veteran’s request for a better discharge status.

The suit was filed by Tyson Manker and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. Manker, who served from 1999 to 2003 and earned multiple awards and commendations, received an other-than-honorable discharge for smoking marijuana.

The settlement would require the Navy to review discharge status upgrade applications made to the Naval Discharge Review Board between March 2, 2012, and the effective date of the settlement.

The review applies to Navy and Marine Corps veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan era who were given general or other-than-honorable discharges and were partially or fully denied upgrade relief, the Navy said Wednesday.

The settlement also expands reapplication rights for eligible applicants who were discharged and received an adverse review board decision between Oct. 7, 2001, and March 2, 2012, the Navy said.

In addition, the Navy agreed to provide discharge review board members and staffers with annual training in PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, military sexual trauma and other behavioral or mental health conditions, according to the settlement.

A sailor leaves the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on April 16, 2021. The Naval Discharge Review Board will review "bad paper" discharges of service members with records of mental health conditions.
A sailor leaves the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on April 16, 2021. The Naval Discharge Review Board will review "bad paper" discharges of service members with records of mental health conditions. (Bryan Valek/U.S. Navy)

In the lawsuit, Manker contended that the review board had unfairly rejected his request for a discharge status upgrade despite evidence that he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury after returning from deployment to Iraq in 2003.

The board adjudicates applications from Navy and Marine Corps veterans seeking to upgrade their general or other-than-honorable discharges.

Those discharges, also known as “bad paper,” stigmatize veterans and keep them from receiving health care, education and other military service benefits.

Other service branches also are under scrutiny for similar discharges, including the Air Force, which was sued in September by two veterans claiming discrimination against service members with mental health conditions.

Manker’s lawsuit argued that among other failings, the board was not complying with a 2014 memorandum from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directing military review boards to consider PTSD and related conditions as mitigating factors in an other-than-honorable condition of service.

A teleconference on the settlement agreement is scheduled Dec. 16, the Navy’s statement said.

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Alison Bath reports on the U.S. Navy, including U.S. 6th Fleet, in Europe and Africa. She has reported for a variety of publications in Montana, Nevada and Louisiana, and served as editor of newspapers in Louisiana, Oregon and Washington.
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