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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Decades Too Late With Schizophrenic Vet’s Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) - A schizophrenic veteran is about 25 years too late to sue for wrongful discharge and disability benefits, a judge for the Court of Federal Claims ruled.

An action must be filed within six years of a claim occurring for the court to have jurisdiction, according to the ruling. The military discharge being disputed here by Monroe Quailes Jr., however. dates back to 1979.

"Despite the court's recognition of the difficulties in seeking redress that plaintiff has encountered over the years, it is compelled to grant the government's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction," Judge Edward Damich wrote.

Quailes served two tours in Vietnam with the Army as a quarry machine operator and a cook before returning stateside in 1972. He soon began experiencing psychiatric problems that led to a suicide attempt in 1973 and subsequent outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A routine physical conducted before Quailes was honorably discharged in April 1975 showed "no psychiatric problems." After another suicide attempt in July that year, however, Quailes entered outpatient care at a private psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C.

Quailes nevertheless succeeded less than a year later in enlisting in the Navy - "somewhat surprisingly, in light of the indications of his troubled history," Damich noted.

Soon thereafter, he went AWOL (absent without leave) twice in August 1976, then returned to service before taking an "unauthorized absence" in October. In November, he was declared a deserter.

In December 1976, Quailes was arrested in Easton, Md., on charges of burglary and grand larceny in connection with a home break-in. A third suicide attempt while incarcerated in the county jail landed him in a Maryland psychiatric hospital.

Quailes ultimately withdrew an initial plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and pleaded guilty to the break-in in December 1977. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with five years suspended.

In March 1979, Quailes was released on parole to the custody of the Navy and positioned for court-martial.

Prior to those proceedings, medical and psychiatric boards for the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., examined Quailes and found that he suffered from schizophrenia. The medical board recommended his case go to the Physical Evaluation Board for a disability determination; the psychiatric board determined Quailes was competent to participate in his own defense despite his schizophrenia.

Following the boards' findings, the Navy withdrew the pending court-martial with prejudice, but moved to dismiss Quailes from service because of the home break-in.

He was given a general discharge "by reason of misconduct" in August 1979.

Eight years later, Quailes applied to the Board for Correction of Naval Records to challenge his discharge and seek retroactive disability benefits. His request was denied after it was determined that no disability occurred during his time in the Navy because his condition "appeared to exist prior to entering the naval service."

Quailes asked for reconsideration by the board in three letters sent in 1989, arguing his psychiatric issues were service-related "or at least service-aggravated." Reconsideration was formally denied in 1991.

The following year, Quailes took his case pro se to U.S. Claims Court - now the Court of Federal Claims - seeking "disability payments and other benefits, including correction of his military records to show that he suffered and continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder ('PTSD') and should have been retired at a 100 percent medical disability rating."

The court found the Navy acted within its prerogative to discharge Quailes for disciplinary reasons "without any concurrent obligation to proceed with disability evaluation processing."

A three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit later affirmed.

Last year, Quailes again asked the Board for Correction of Naval Records to reconsider his discharge challenge and request for disability benefits. He was turned down, on the ground that he had submitted no new material evidence.

Judge Damich's ruling noted that Quailes was before the Court of Federal Claims, pro se, for a second time. The judge pointed out that courts generally grant pro se parties "greater leeway" but that "the leniency afforded to a pro se litigant with respect to mere formalities does not relieve the burden to meet jurisdictional requirements.

"Unfortunately for Mr. Quailes," he wrote, "the two claims that he presses - wrongful discharge and disability benefits - are well beyond the period allowed under the statute of limitations that governs the filing of actions in this court. His claims thus fail for lack of jurisdiction."

The "six-year clock" for the discharge claim "began running" when Quailes was discharged from the Navy in 1979 - "nearly 33 years prior to the filing date of this suit," Damich wrote.

The disability claim "fails for similar reasons, no matter which of three possible dates might serve as the starting point for the accrual of his claims," the judge wrote.

"With no basis for tolling or otherwise suspending the running of the statute of limitations, Mr. Quailes's claims in this 2012 complaint are clearly outside the six-year limit and thus beyond the jurisdiction of the court."

Justice Department attorney Corinne Niosi represented the government.

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