The Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School is celebrating a legal victory in the form of a class action lawsuit against the Army. Specifically, the lawsuit sought to remedy the Army board’s mishandling of discharge upgrade requests that involved implications of mental health conditions or disorders that contributed to the Veteran’s character of discharge. Under a proposed settlement agreement, the Army will reconsider thousands of discharge decisions involving mental health conditions. The Army is charged to more fully evaluate the Veteran’s mental health disorder and determine whether said disorder mitigates the Veteran’s misconduct that led to the negatively characterized discharge. If it is determined that said mental health disorder does mitigate the misconduct, then the Veteran’s discharge will be upgraded to “honorable.”
Issues surrounding characterization of Veterans’ discharges and mental health have affected hundreds of thousands of Veterans that have been separated from the military with an other-than-honorable discharge for misconduct when the behavior is consistent with a mental health disorder related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or military sexual trauma (MST). Veterans with an OTH discharge are typically ineligible for VA disability benefits, which include access to healthcare that could better address their mental health disorders. This lack of benefits and lack of medical care for these mental health disorders has led to a greater rate of suicide for those Veterans not receiving care through the VA.
Veterans may seek a discharge upgrade after discharge in an attempt to gain access to benefits and recognition of honorable military service. However, most discharge upgrades are denied, leaving Veterans with little to no further recourse to remedy their character of discharge. It remains to be seen how this new agreement will work in practice and if it will afford Veterans the relief they have been seeking for so many years. Although this new agreement cannot repair the feelings of the Veterans who have had to deal with these discharges and cannot provide the healthcare they have needed retroactively, hopefully this will be a gateway to a better system and more understanding of mental health issues in Veterans that will ultimately afford them greater benefits and greater care from VA.
If you have questions about your character of discharge or questions about VA benefits in general please contact our office at (251) 343-1111. Gardberg and Kemmerly are proud to service Veterans across the United States from our home office in Mobile, Alabama.