Military service members often experience more than their fair share of trauma while serving their country. Unfortunately, the resulting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), and other behavioral and mental health conditions can lead to misconduct that garners wrongful military discharges.
This is the argument Iraq War veteran Tyson Manker and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR) brought forth in a nationwide class-action lawsuit against Carlos Del Toro, U.S. Secretary of the Navy. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) at Yale Law School was part of Manker’s legal team. The goal of filing the lawsuit was to bring accountability and justice to thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans suffering every day from the invisible wounds of war.
History of the Case
The class-action lawsuit stemmed from the case of former Cpl. Tyson Manker, who was dismissed from the Marine Corps with an other-than-honorable discharge for marijuana use. Manker claimed he turned to the drug as a coping mechanism after being exposed to numerous traumatic events while serving in Iraq in 2003.
Manker applied for a discharge upgrade in 2016 but was denied. He then filed the nationwide class-action lawsuit in 2018. In October 2021, the Navy agreed to upgrade Manker’s discharge to honorable, but the case continued through the court system until a federal judge approved a settlement on Feb. 15, 2022.
Details of the Settlement
The Manker v. Del Toro settlement requires the Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) to do the following:
- Reconsider thousands of general and other-than-honorable partially or fully denied discharge upgrades made between March 2, 2012, and Feb. 15, 2022, despite evidence of PTSD, TBI, or MST when service members separated from the military.
- Expand reapplication rights for veterans who were discharged and denied a status upgrade between Oct. 7, 2001, and March 1, 2012.
- Implement administrative reforms for veterans who apply to have their discharge statuses upgraded in the future. New protocols will affect decision-making in cases involving symptoms of PTSD, TBI, MST, or other behavioral and mental health conditions.
- Inform veterans of their potential right to a medical evaluation and resources to help them complete their discharge upgrade applications.
- Ensure each applicant has access to a video-teleconference hearing with the NDRB to discuss their case. This is a change to the previous requirement that applicants travel to Washington, D.C., for their hearings.
- Document in more detail any future decisions to deny discharge status upgrade requests.
- Train board members on the Department of Defense (DOD) policy released in 2017, which gives “liberal consideration” to veterans looking to upgrade their discharges in situations where service-induced mental health disorders could have led to their separation.
For many veterans, the automatic reconsideration and expanded reapplication rights granted by the Manker settlement restore access to critical medical care, disability compensation, education benefits, tax breaks, and preferential hiring they should have been receiving all along. The settlement is an important step toward meeting the needs of veterans who return with serious physical and mental injuries resulting directly from their brave and selfless decision to serve their country.
Other Recent Cases
The Manker settlement is the latest in a series of class actions brought by the VLSC against various branches of the military for unfairly discharging veterans with less-than-honorable discharges.
In April 2021, a federal court granted final approval of a settlement in the Kennedy v. McCarthy case against the Army. In this similar settlement, the judge ordered the Army to automatically review other-than-honorable discharges dating back to 2011. The Army was also required to notify soldiers discharged as far back as 2001 that they could apply for an upgrade or appeal a previous decision.
Another federal class action was filed in September 2021 on behalf of thousands of Air Force veterans with mental health conditions or experiences of military sexual assault who were separated less-than-honorably from the military. The complaint alleges that the military discriminates against veterans with disabilities and reviews discharge upgrade requests under inadequate standards. The hope is that this case will result in a similar outcome as Manker and Kennedy to restore much-deserved access to veterans’ benefits.
Determining Your Eligibility for a Discharge Upgrade
Are you a Navy or Marine Corps veteran separated less-than-honorably while having a diagnosis or showing symptoms of a traumatic condition related to your service? If so, you may be eligible for a discharge upgrade under the Manker settlement. Here’s what you need to know:
- If you were denied a discharge upgrade request between 2012 and 2022, your case will be reviewed automatically; you do not need to request it.
- If you were discharged and denied an upgrade as far back as 2001, you have the opportunity to reapply with the NDRB.
- If you believe you were discharged unfairly but have yet to apply for a discharge upgrade, you can do so under new protocols that increase your chances of a positive decision.
Be aware that discharge status upgrades are not guaranteed, and applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. Still, the opportunity to restore your well-deserved benefits is worth the time and effort to apply. Keep in mind that the Navy has identified and alerted many eligible veterans, but you may still be eligible even if you have not received notice.
Get Legal Advice from a Military Attorney
Do you think you might be eligible for a discharge upgrade because of the Manker settlement? Work with Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law, for the best chance of a positive outcome in your case. We can help you fight for the discharge you deserve to ensure you receive the benefits you’re entitled to. We can also assist with determining your eligibility and help you submit your application.