HARTFORD, Conn. — Navy and Marine Corps veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems were unfairly given less-than-honorable discharges by the Navy, preventing them from getting Veterans Affairs benefits and other support, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Connecticut seeks class-action status for thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans. The veterans are represented by students with Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which filed a similar lawsuit against the Army last year.
Navy officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.
The veterans say they were less-than-honorably discharged for minor infractions related to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental problems they developed during their service.
They also say the Naval Discharge Review Board, which handles applications from former sailors and Marines, unlawfully denied their requests to change their discharge characterization. The board granted 16 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD last year, compared with 51 percent approval of such applications by Army and Air Force boards, the veterans say.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Marine veteran Tyson Manker, of Jacksonville, Illinois, said Americans need to know that hundreds of thousands of veterans with service-related mental health problems are being denied Veterans Affairs resources because of unfair discharge classifications.
"It is a national disgrace," said Manker, who served during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "By taking this action with the courts we intend to restore the rule of law along with honor for thousands of patriots who were treated so poorly by the nation they served."
The New Haven-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, which includes veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, also is a plaintiff.
"We made mistakes with how we treated the Vietnam generation, before PTSD was well understood, but now we are doling out the same injustice to the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan," said Garry Monk, executive director of the council.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and veteran who lost both legs in the Iraq War, said in a statement released by the plaintiffs that the unfair discharge status is "based on antiquated policies that fail to recognize invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress."