The U.S. Army has agreed to review the discharges of thousands of veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other behavioral health conditions, and to change some of its administrative procedures for individuals who apply to have their discharge statuses upgraded in the future, according to a December release by Army Public Affairs. This agreement follows a settlement reached in the nationwide class action lawsuit Kennedy v. McCarthy. A federal court preliminarily approved the agreement last December.
Under the agreement, the Army will automatically reconsider certain discharge-status-upgrade decisions made by the Army Discharge Review Board between April 17, 2011, and the effective date of settlement that partially or fully denied relief to Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans with less-than-fully-honorable discharges. The settlement also expands reapplication rights for eligible applicants who were discharged and received an adverse ADRB decision between Oct. 7, 2001, and April 16, 2011.
The Virginia Department of Veterans Services is one agency that is available to guide Veterans to attorneys and non-profits to help with this process, according Deputy Commissioner Thomas Herthel.
“We do get clients who come to us seeking assistance and there are those who receive other-than-honorable discharges to a punitive discharge court martial,” Herthel said. “We first have to review the facts of the case.”
The lawsuit started four years ago with Iraq War veteran Stephen Kennedy. He came home with depression and PTSD, which spiraled into alcohol abuse and self-harm. The Army gave him a general discharge, blocking him from some veteran’s benefits, and it denied his upgrade applications until he sued.
“You can’t get the benefits you need to actually recover from the thing that got you discharged in the first place,” Kennedy said, in an interview with the America Homefront Project.
Honorable discharges are the gold standard among Veterans, and the designation comes with full access to VA benefits like health care, disability benefits, and higher education.
But discharge status isn’t just about benefits. Bart Stichman, the Executive Director at the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said to American Homefront Project that a stigma is attached to less than honorable discharges.
“If you don’t get an honorable, it’s a ticket to underemployment,” Stichman said. “If (your discharge) is anything other than honorable, then it’s very likely that they won’t hire you.”
The National Veterans Legal Services Program has started a new program to provide free legal representation to Veterans who were involuntarily separated from the military and received a less than honorable discharge.
In addition, the Army will implement other procedures, including a program to enable applicants to appear telephonically before the Army Discharge Review Board, more training for board members and updated protocols for decision making in cases involving symptoms or diagnoses of PTSD, TBI, MST or other behavioral health conditions.
Discharge upgrades are not guaranteed and applications will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
A court-approved class notice, the full text of the settlement and information about the court’s hearing can be found at arba.army.pentagon.mil/adrb-overview.html.