Lawsuit against Navy improperly discharging vets with PTSD to move forward, judge rules
By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 8, 2019
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday denied the Navy’s request to dismiss a class-action lawsuit alleging thousands of post-9/11 Navy and Marine Corps veterans were improperly discharged after suffering from injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tyson Manker, 38, filed the suit in 2018 against the Navy after receiving a less-than-honorable discharge from the Marine Corps following his 2003 deployment to Iraq. The suit seeks to guarantee the fair treatment of veterans when they apply to have their discharge characterizations changed. There is a similar ongoing lawsuit against the Army.
“[The] 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,” Manker said in a statement.
Manker, a former mortarman, fought in the invasion of Iraq. He was kicked out of the service and booted down to the rank of lance corporal after admitting he used marijuana to self-medicate and lessen the effects of his PTSD. Marijuana is still against military regulations, even in states where the drug is now legal.
More than 13,000 service members separated from the military for misconduct in recent years suffered from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or another disorder and given an other-than-honorable discharge, according to a 2017 study from the Government Accountability Office.
The less-than-honorable discharge can create a lot of hurdles for veterans. Manker said he lost his GI Bill benefits and he has had issues attaining VA health care, despite his level of discharge still qualifying him for care. However, he said it's common for VA staff to believe he isn't entitled to benefits.
“It felt like I was alone, I put myself through college because I lost my GI Bill," Manker said. "A lot of guys were getting kicked out right when the war was really starting."
When Manker's unit returned from Iraq, they filled out a health evaluation to assess mental health. But according to Manker, there was no follow up from the Marine Corps., despite his PTSD symptoms. He said the screening process for PTSD was "just a check list."
Manker was investigated for using marijuana shortly after returning home. He attacked the process of discharging Marines as unfair and it motivated him to become an attorney. One of his goals is to change his discharge status to honorable.
"I was interrogated without counsel, I was threatened with 50 years at Fort Leavenworth right after my deployment,” he said. "I caved obviously."
Senior Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. of the District of Connecticut also directed the Navy to reconsider the requests to upgrade Manker’s discharge to honorable and another plaintiff referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit.