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Judge certifies class-action lawsuit for Army veterans with ‘bad paper’ discharges

December 25, 2018

A federal judge in New Haven has certified a nationwide class-action lawsuit seeking relief for more than 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Army veterans who developed mental health conditions during their military service and received other-than-honorable discharges.

Army vets Steve Kennedy of Fairfield and Alicia Carson, a former resident of Connecticut, who served at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, filed the proposed federal class-action lawsuit against the Army in April 2017 over its handling of discharge upgrades for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and related mental health conditions.

Senior District Judge Warren W. Eginton issued his decision last Friday, certifying the suit as a nationwide class action.

The lawsuit alleges that the military continues to issue less-than-honorable discharges, more commonly referred to as “bad paper,” at historically high rates, often for minor infractions attributable to undiagnosed mental health issues stemming from military service. Nearly a third of the more than 2 million Americans who’ve served since 9/11 suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions, the lawsuit says.

An other-than-honorable discharge is the most severe form of administrative discharge, usually given after a pattern of misconduct. This kind discharge can impact service members’ employment prospects when they get out of the military and usually makes them ineligible for veterans benefits such as educational money and mental health treatment.

Connecticut recently became the first state in the nation to allow vets with other-than-honorable discharges to access state veterans benefits. Kennedy, a founder of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was a major proponent for the state legislation. Earlier this year, he won an eight-year fight against the Army to upgrade his discharge status from general to honorable.

“This decision means that thousands of (service members) who have been denied the support of VA resources because of an unfair discharge status may have a second chance at relief,” Kennedy, who served in Iraq, said in a statement.

Nearly five years ago, the then head of the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, issued a directive to military review boards to consider the role that PTSD and other mental health conditions play in veterans’ discharges.

The lawsuit is about “holding the Army to its commitments and securing justice for the veterans whose honorable service has gone unrecognized for too long,” Jordan Goldberg, a law student in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which represents the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, said in a statement.

The plaintiffs also are represented by the Jenner & Block LLP.

This follows a decision by another federal judge in Connecticut who approved a nationwide class-action lawsuit of Marine and Navy veterans against the Naval Discharge Review Board.

j.bergman@theday.com

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