Settlement Spurs Navy to Take Another Look at 'Bad Paper' Discharges of Traumatized Vets

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Marines rest after building bridges in Afghanistan.
Marines from Alpha Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, rest after finishing the construction of three makeshift bridges in Marjah, Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 2010. (Lance Cpl. Walter D. Marino II/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

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.

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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