A class action lawsuit has been filed against the federal government by five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers allege that they were illegally denied disability benefits despite being diagnosed with severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The soldiers were discharged by the Army after it determined that their damaged mental health left them unfit to serve. They were then assigned disability ratings well below the 50 percent figure needed to qualify for lifetime health care benefits. The complaint claims that the Army “systematically” ignored rules requiring that all servicemen diagnosed with PTSD receive an automatic 50 percent rating. In October, the Defense Department ordered the Army to stop deflating PTSD victims’ disability ratings.
The lawsuit asks the Army to award the soldiers the disability benefits they would have received, as well as unspecified damages. Lawyers are hoping to find out how many other servicemen with PTSD were denied disability benefits through discovery. “[W]e think there were thousands,” said Bart Stichman, co-director of National Veterans Legal Services Program, which is representing the soldiers.
The soldiers are also being represented by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The NVLSP instituted a Lawyers Serving Warriors program to provide veterans pro bono counsel from major firms, and this is the first lawsuit from that program.
In California in 2007, a group of former soldiers filed suit against the Veterans Administration demanding that the agency completely restructure the way it processes PTSD claims, and clean up a mess that left many former soldiers without care for months.