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Connecticut judge gives tentative approval to U.S. Navy agreement for disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

The U.S. Navy has agreed to reconsider decisions that resulted in less-than-honorable discharges for Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans as part of the settlement of a Connecticut-based class action suit that would continue to expand state and federal benefits to tens of thousands of affected veterans across the country.

The development came in a decision in Bridgeport by U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. in a class action suit by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic and others on behalf of U.S. Navy and Marine Corp veterans. The veterans argued that their discharges were downgraded because of behaviors associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other mental health conditions they suffered while in military service.

The Yale veterans clinic reached a similar settlement a year ago in a class action case against the U.S. Army and recently filed a similar class action against the Air Force. The Army agreed under its settlement to revisit as many as 150,000 appeals by veterans, who received so called “bad paper” discharges for often petty misconduct later associated with traumatic stress disorders. Haight’s decision, dated Wednesday, could qualify thousands more Navy, Marine and Marine Reserve vets for discharge upgrades, which make vets entering civilian life eligible for a wider variety of benefit programs.

Haight granted preliminary approval to the class settlement. Final approval is likely to follow a hearing in federal district court at 10 a.m. on Dec. 16. The hearing will be broadcast over Zoom and those affected by the settlement can submit written comments or participate in person through their lawyers. The text of the settlement and information about the hearing are at www.mankersettlement.com.

The agreement with the Navy would allow service veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era to obtain upgrades for general or other-than-honorable discharges. Upgrades are not guaranteed and would be evaluated by the Navy on an individual basis.

The Navy has agreed to automatically reconsider discharge decisions made between March 2, 2012 and the effective date of the settlement. Veterans pursuing upgrades of decisions made between Oct. 7, 2001 and March 2, 2012 have a right under the settlement to reapply for upgrades.

The Navy also agreed under the settlement to change some discharge procedures. It will allow applicants to appear before the Naval Discharge Review Board by video teleconference and it agreed to use updated diagnostic protocols when evaluating symptoms or diagnoses of stress-related traumas.

A less-than-honorable discharge can have lifelong consequences. Veterans are denied educational assistance through the GI bill as well as certain mental health and disability benefits that can help those with traumatic stress disorders recover. A less-than-honorable discharge can also be a long-term impediment to housing and employment. 

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