(CN) – Army veterans who claim the military did not give “liberal consideration” to diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder while reviewing disciplinary decisions can proceed in their lawsuit as a class, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton in Connecticut certified a class last week to include all Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with less-than-honorable statuses who have not received discharge upgrades to honorable, and also have diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or PTSD-related conditions attributable to their military service.
The lead plaintiff, Stephen Kennedy, joined the Army in 2006, and served in Iraq the following two years.
He came back to the U.S. with severe PTSD and depression that the Army allegedly failed to adequately treat.
In 2009, he took an absence without leave, or AWOL, to attend his wedding because his request for leave was denied due to a scheduled training exercise. He returned to Fort Bragg after two weeks, but was soon discharged with a less-than-honorable discharge.
Kennedy says his PTSD was a major factor in his decision to go AWOL.
He petitioned the Army Discharge Review Board for a change to his discharge status, but claims the board did not follow or even refer to instructions issued by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordering it to give “liberal consideration” to diagnoses of PTSD and similar mental health conditions when making its decisions.
In December 2016, Kennedy filed the lawsuit seeking a re-characterization of his Army service, and was granted class certification last Friday.
“Plaintiffs have requested that the court’s injunction ‘rectify the ADRB’s failure to apply the decisional standards already established by the Hagel Memo and now codified at 10 U.S.C. § 1553,’” Judge Eginton said. “This court has jurisdiction to consider a lawsuit seeking redress where a military entity has failed to follow mandatory regulations resulting in prejudice to a service member.”
After Kennedy filed his motion for class certification, the board upgraded his discharge to honorable, but the judge said this change in status did not moot his claims.
“Defendant has not demonstrated assurance that there exists no reasonable expectation that the ADRB will continue to disregard the Hagel Memo PTSD directive in its in review of discharge upgrade applications,” the 17-page opinion states.
The Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic and Jenner & Block LLP will represent all the plaintiffs in the case.
The ruling comes a month after a similar class of Navy and Marine Corps veterans was certified.