The U.S. Navy will review the discharges of thousands of veterans affected by behavioral or mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and experiences of military sexual trauma (MST). The Navy will also implement administrative reforms for individuals who apply to have their discharge statuses upgraded in the future. These reforms follow a settlement reached in the nationwide class action Manker v. Del Toro, brought by Afghanistan veteran Tyson Manker and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR). A federal court granted final approval of the settlement on Feb. 15, 2022.
The Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) at Yale Law School represents the plaintiffs with co-counsel Jenner & Block LLP.
“The Manker settlement guarantees automatic reconsideration and expanded reapplication rights for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans — for many veterans, this will mean access to critical care and benefits that they should have been receiving all along. This settlement is an important step towards more fully meeting the needs of Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans who came back with serious physical and mental injuries from their service,” said Alexander Fischer ’22, a law student intern in the clinic.
In the order granting final approval, U.S. District Court Judge Haight wrote, “The Court regards the proposed settlement of this case as an impressive example of the manner in which a class action can be made the vehicle for doing substantial justice and advancing the rule of law.”
Under the settlement, the Navy will automatically reconsider certain decisions made by the Naval Discharge Review Board (NDRB) between March 2, 2012, and Feb. 15, 2022, that partially or fully denied relief to Iraq- and Afghanistan-era Navy and Marine Corps veterans with General or Other Than Honorable discharges and who requested an upgrade. The settlement also expands reapplication rights for eligible applicants who were discharged and received an adverse NDRB decision between Oct. 7, 2001, and March 1, 2012.
“The settlement achieved here helps bring accountability and justice for thousands of veterans suffering every day from the invisible wounds of war. It is a recognition of their service, their value, and their dignity, and we look forward to the impact it will have on the lives of so many servicemembers,” said Garry Monk, Executive Director, and Conley Monk, Director, of NVCLR.
The settlement also ensures that veterans who submit applications for discharge upgrades in the future will benefit from procedural reforms and new protocols for decision-making in cases involving symptoms or diagnoses of PTSD, TBI, MST, or other behavioral-health conditions.
The settlement requires the NDRB to inform veterans of their potential right to medical evaluation and possible resources for free legal counsel to aid them in completing their applications. The NDRB will also be required to ensure each applicant has access to a video- teleconference hearing from their residence or other location, document in more detail any future negative decisions, and train its staff on DOD guidance regarding the identification of these behavioral-health conditions.
Veterans of the Navy and Marine Corps who were discharged with less-than-fully-honorable service characterizations while having a diagnosis of, or showing symptoms of, the conditions listed above may be eligible for relief. Discharge upgrades are not guaranteed, and applications will be decided on a case-by-case basis. Eligible veterans who have been identified by the Navy will receive notice of their rights under the settlement. Veterans who do not receive notice may still be eligible for relief.
The current case represents the latest in a series of actions brought by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic against other branches of the military on behalf of veterans who unfairly received less-than-Honorable discharges. A federal court granted final approval of a settlement reached in a nationwide class action lawsuit against the U.S. Army on April 26, 2021. The clinic is also litigating a new federal class action filed on behalf of thousands of Air Force veterans who were separated less than Honorably from the military.
Established in 2010, the clinic is part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. Students and faculty represent Connecticut veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts, on benefits, discharge upgrade, and other civil-rights matters. In addition, students represent local and national organizations in state and federal policy advocacy relating to the legal needs of veterans.