Iraq War veteran Tyson Manker (40) recently led a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Navy for veterans with PTSD to receive a discharge upgrade – and won. A huge victory for thousands of veterans across the nation who struggle with PTSD and received an other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge.
Men and women who enter military service are promised they will be taken care of when they get home - health care covered, college education covered, disability pay.
When they work hard to serve our nation only to have that promise unjustly ripped out from under them, healthy reintegration into civilian society becomes nearly impossible.
To be eligible for VA benefits, a veteran must have served in active military, air, or naval service, and received an other-than-dishonorable (OTD) discharge. VA uses several criteria to decide a veteran’s character of discharge (COD) and benefit eligibility.
Misconduct is a common reason for an OTH or dishonorable discharge – aggressive behavior, drug and alcohol issues, going AWOL. For those who know anything about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you’ll recognize all of the above as symptoms of the disorder itself.
The brain adapts with experience to keep us safe. When humans are exposed to severe trauma, the “safety mechanisms” that kick in can include insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, hostility. Struggling service members don’t often turn to the military for help since an underserved negative stigma circles mental health issues. Self-medicating can help – and is therefore a PTSD symptom in itself.
PTSD isn’t typically diagnosed during service. Instead, the military marks the behavior down as disobedience, disrespect toward military rules and policies. The service member is given an OTH discharge and stripped of their eligibility for veteran’s benefits.
Veterans know that the military’s reasoning behind assigning character of discharge is unjust and unacceptable – and they’re fighting back.
An 18-year-old Tyson Manker joined the Marine Corps in 1999 and was sent to Iraq in 2003. His time in service exposed him to things most civilians will never see in their lifetimes, hidden explosives all around, repeated concussive trauma, death, dismemberment, friends dying in front of him.
Manker’s unit received numerous honors. He received a ranking of “excellent” in proficiency and conduct evaluations. At the time, he was suffering from hypervigilance and nightmares. He sought help for his PTSD symptoms during service but never received any.
One night he and some other Marines were caught smoking marijuana. Manker was charged (non-judicially) with possession of a controlled substance and given an OTH discharge – no VA benefits.
Manker entered civilian life in a daze, confused by how the military had promised him everything and left him with nothing. A near-death experience brought him back to reality, he took out some college loans, graduated university, and gained the confidence and legal understanding of his situation to fight for the VA benefits he deserved.
In 2018, he filed a class-action lawsuit in a Connecticut federal court. In October 2021, the Navy agreed to settle and upgraded Manker's discharge to honorable. The Navy also says it will reconsider characters of discharge for Navy, Marines, and Reserves members discharged between October 7,2001 and March 2, 2012.
Around 15% of military members who served in Afghanistan and Iraq received less-than-honorable discharges – more than double that of Vietnam vets and more than seven-times that of World War II vets. Interpret that as you wish.
A final settlement approval hearing for Manker v. Del Toro is scheduled for December 16, 2021.