Illinois Iraq War veteran Tyson Manker with PTSD wins Navy class action lawsuit to upgrade landfill and get VA benefits
As a Marine in combat and later as a scoreless young veteran, Tyson Manker has faced many difficult times.
But now the Illinois man has won his last and potentially biggest battle – this one fought in court. And that should help him and thousands of other U.S. military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
A preliminary settlement of its Navy class action lawsuit, once finalized, will help veterans who received “other than honorable” and “general” military terminations due to PTSD – and who, as a result, have been excluded from care health care, injury compensation, college money, and other benefits generally available to vets.
Like Manker, many have gone untreated and have been reported for behavioral issues.
“Think how bad this situation is,” Manker says. “We’re going to send you home with no benefits and wounds and this scarlet letter, and ‘Good luck.’ “
As Manker, who is from the small southern state town of South Jacksonville near Springfield, describes, he’s been to hell and back – twice.
The first time was in Iraq, where he was deployed as a young Patriot Navy with a promising career but left under a cloud as he struggled with what he had seen and experienced there.
The second time, years later, was in Texas, when he was nearly stabbed to death. It turned out to be a wake-up call, he said, to fix his own life and do what he could to help other veterans.
Now Manker says he’s got a lot to be happy about.
“I’m finally able to be totally proud of my service,” he says.
Manker, 40, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1999 at the age of 18. In 2003, he was deployed to the Middle East during the US invasion of Iraq.
Here is what he remembers the most from that time:
Fighters and civilians dead and dismembered.
Landmines and improvised explosive devices.
A close friend and comrade who accidentally shot himself to the head.
In addition, as a mortar shooter, he was subjected to repeated explosions of subcommotion.
Manker and his unit received the Presidential Unit Citation for “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy” and for “bravery, determination and esprit de corps in… extremely difficult and dangerous conditions.
He has also received other accolades and, in his last two evaluations, was rated “excellent” for his skills and conduct.
Looking back, Manker says he was already showing classic signs of PTSD – nightmares, hypervigilance, fears for his own life.
One night before getting a month off home, Manker says he and two junior Marines shared marijuana.
Upon his return from leave, he was charged non-judicially with use or possession of a controlled substance. Although his medical evaluation showed no evidence of substance dependence – and recommended that his trauma be treated – Manker said in the lawsuit that he received no help for his PTSD.
Instead, within months he was kicked out of the military with a “non-honorable” discharge – “bad paper,” the veterans call him.
Leaving the service with such a discharge means that a veterinarian cannot access health care provided by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, including assessment and treatment for previously undiagnosed PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or trauma caused. by military sexual assault.
It also means giving up GI Bill money for college and not being able to access veterans’ disability benefits, housing assistance, or special unemployment programs.
Manker says he’s undocked.
Over time, he found a job, repairing motorcycles and living in Texas.
It was then that he was stabbed. He had dated a friend in Austin. A man pulled out what Manker initially thought was a gun to steal the friend. It turned out to be a knife. The man used it to attack Manker. He stabbed him in the face and neck.
Manker says he remembers waking up in a hospital room, surprised to be alive.
Having this near-death experience far from the battlefield, it turned out that “shook me from this haze that I was in.”
He returned home to Illinois and enrolled in community college, then went to the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he graduated. magna cum laude.
Due to his non-honorable discharge, he could not use the GI Bill for his education. So he took out loans – enough to end up paying for his law studies at Western Michigan University.
Then he decided to challenge his discharge, to try to pass it to honorable, based on a new understanding of PTSD and a 2014 memo from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who said such requests should be given “liberal consideration”.
Manker struck on his first attempt. So he contacted the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic, who agreed to help.
His class action lawsuit was filed in early 2018 in federal court in Connecticut. This month, his attorneys and Navy attorneys agreed to a settlement that, when approved by a judge, will turn Manker’s discharge to honorable and pave the way for other veterans with PTSD to overthrow their own “bad paper”.
The settlement comes as bad rejections have, over time, increased. Since 2001, more than 2.7 million military personnel have served in active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about 15% of them have walked away with less than honorable dismissals, according to the lawsuit. This is far more than the 7% of Vietnam-era veterans and the 2% of WWII veterans who obtained such releases.
Under preliminary regulations, which would affect those who served in the Navy, Marines, and Navy and Navy Reserves, the The Navy will automatically reconsider certain exit upgrade decisions made since March 2, 2012. And vets whose discharge decisions were made between October 7, 2001 and March 2, 2012 will have the right to try to have them changed.
The Navy will also allow video hearings, making it easier for vets who can’t afford to travel to Washington to advocate in person.
The Marine declined to comment.
A video hearing on the final approval of Manker’s settlement is set for December 16.
Blake Shultz, a recent Yale law graduate who has been working on the case for almost three years, says it has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of veterans with undiagnosed PTSD, some of whom have ended up homeless or with a criminal record after leaving the military.
“This settlement is a small but very important first step,” said Shultz.
Manker plans to continue using his legal skills. But he will also be using his new GI Bill for music school, starting in January.
In Iraq, Manker promised himself that when he returned home he would learn to play the guitar. He says he found solace in playing the instrument and formed a rock band called Neonmoms.
“I am grateful that I can hang an honorable discharge on my wall,” said Manker, “and that when I die there will be a flag folded in my honor.”
READ THE SUN-TIMES REPORT OF JULY 11