NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CN) — A former Marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder accused the Naval Discharge Review Board in a federal class action Friday of shirking its duty to ensure that disciplinary decisions made in the heat of battle do not result in life sentences for young veterans.
Represented by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, lead plaintiff Tyson Manker says he was just 18 in 1999 when he enlisted.
By 2002, he was an officer leading infantry Marines in the invasion of Iraq. After experiencing intense combat and witnessing the death of a close friend and squad mate, the complaint says Manker began experiencing nightmares and other PTSD symptoms. Manker received a other-than-honorable discharge in 2003 upon his first infraction for self-medicating with an illegal drug.
Though he is now a lawyer in his home state of Illinois, Manker says the OTH designation of his discharge has cost him numerous opportunities to get treatment for his mental health condition, as well as education benefits under the GI Bill.
Manker brought his suit Friday in Connecticut with the New Haven-based advocacy group National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.
The group says another of its members, described only as John Doe, is in the same OTH boat as Manker after developing PTSD in the Marines.
In recent years Manker and Doe both applied to have their discharges upgraded in light of their PTSD diagnoses.
“They had reason to be optimistic: the law requires the NDRB to give ‘liberal’ or ‘special’ consideration to discharge upgrade applications based on credible claims of service connected PTSD, and Mr. Manker and Mr. Doe’s applications provided clear evidence of mitigating service-connected PTSD,” the complaint says. “Nevertheless, the NDRB denied their petitions. What neither Mr. Manker nor Mr. Doe knew at the time was that the NDRB denies almost 90 percent of applications alleging PTSD or PTSD-related conditions.”
The U.S. Navy did not respond to an email request for comment.
The complaint goes onto accuse the review board of ignoring Department of Defense guidance and instituting an “unconstitutional secret policy against granting discharge upgrades, which sets an unachievable and sometimes unknown evidentiary burden for applicants alleging PTSD as a basis for a discharge upgrade.”
The veterans are represented by attorney Michael Wishnie and students from Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which filed a similar lawsuit against the Army years earlier.