Two former soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD have filed a federal class-action lawsuit to have their general discharges upgraded, according to a complaint filed Monday in Connecticut.
Former Pfc. Stephen Kennedy, 30, and Spc. Alicia Carson, 28, are plaintiffs in a suit alleging that despite the requirement for the Army Discharge Review Board to give "liberal consideration" to veterans claiming their discharges were related to post-traumatic stress disorder, diagnosed veterans are having their reviews denied.
The complaint was filed — officially against acting Army Secretary Robert Speer — on the veterans' behalf by Yale Law School's Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, whose students successfully sued the Army in 2014 on behalf of Vietnam veterans with PTSD.
As a result, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote a memo to the Defense Department's review boards requiring them to take "liberal consideration" with discharges for misconduct that could have been connected to PTSD.
"That should have been the end of it, and here we are, three years later, asking them to actually do what they said they would do," Yale law student Helen White told Army Times on Monday.
White is one of five law students representing Kennedy and Carson.
"We think it’s really shameful that it’s taken not one, but two, class actions filed by vets with PTSD to get the military to do something about it," White said.
Reached for comment, an Army spokeswoman declined to discuss the case.
"As a matter of policy, the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation," Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told Army Times.
'Not one-off mistakes'
Though the lawsuit names two soldiers specifically, White said, the team filed it as a class-action case both to point out how common they say the problem is and so that the ruling could cover anyone fighting for or thinking of filing for an upgrade.
"To prove to the Army that this is not a one-off, they are not one-off mistakes," she said. "We want to make sure that we’re bringing as many people in as we can."
Kennedy served as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division and deployed to Iraq before his discharge in 2009, White said. Carson, then a member of the Connecticut National Guard, deployed to Afghanistan and served as a gunner for a Special Forces unit.
Both received general discharges after going absent without leave, according to the suit.
The lawsuit argues that both were suffering from PTSD: Carson's was diagnosed, while the Army called Kennedy's condition "major depressive disorder," which was later diagnosed as PTSD by a VA doctor.
Both filed to have their discharges upgraded in 2015, but Hagel's memo hasn't been applied liberally or equally, White said. Both Carson and Kennedy's cases were denied.
"In neither case did the board seem to believe that they had PTSD at the the time of their discharge," she said of the board's written decisions.
In Kennedy's case, she said, the reasoning was that he never sought treatment for PTSD, specifically while on active duty, though he was diagnosed with depression.
"They don’t even mention the Hagel memo in their discussion," she added.
The team is seeking both new reviews for Kennedy and Carson, as well as changes to the system that would uphold the liberal consideration policy.
This would include "a court order saying that the board must apply the Hagel memo, fully and keeping with its purpose," White said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.