Thousands of Army veterans removed from the service due to mental illness or sexual assault trauma were handed a legal victory on Wednesday that offers a chance for them to change the status of their dismissal.
The new legal settlement — the result of a class-action lawsuit brought by two Connecticut veterans against Army leadership more than three years ago — orders service officials to review tens of thousands of denied discharge upgrade requests from the past nine years, applying more lenient guidelines.
As part of the deal, the Army has agreed to give new considerations to less than honorable discharges linked to behaviors triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder or related mental health conditions as well as sexual assault trauma.
In addition, Army veterans who applied for a discharge upgrade between 2001 and 2011 could also get a chance to reapply under the same guidelines.
Getting a discharge upgrade could greatly benefit veterans, as a less than honorable discharge can prevent them from accessing federal and state medical benefits that may help them treat their issues. A less than honorable discharge could also block education benefits, job training and financial assistance.
An estimated 50,000 Army veterans may have such discharges, though many haven’t applied for upgrades, according to Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which represented the plaintiffs.
The Pentagon in 2017 required that reviewers of a discharge upgrade decision should apply “liberal consideration,” when looking at upgrades for discharges that were caused by “post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault or sexual harassment.”
But the suit contended that the Army did not follow these rules and did not apply them retroactively to veterans already denied upgrades.
The deal is likely to benefit many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who were improperly kicked out due to PTSD, undiagnosed brain injuries and suicide attempts.