Veterans group continues legal battle over discharge records
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A veterans group is continuing to sue the Pentagon over access to military discharge records despite a federal judge’s recent dismissal of the case.
The National Veterans Legal Services Program said Tuesday that it filed its intent to bring the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The group represents former service members who want to upgrade a less-than-honorable discharge. Such a status can sometimes result in a loss of veterans benefits.
Advocates often prepare a veteran’s discharge appeal by studying past decisions made by military review boards, which grant or deny an upgrade. The legal services group says it lacks access to more than half of about 245,000 decisions going back several years.
Bart Stichman, the group’s executive director, said advocates depend on those decisions to help veterans “seek vital benefits for themselves and their families that have been unjustly denied.”
The military had said it blocked access to a public database last year after discovering that some of the decisions contained personal information that should have been redacted.
In January, the veterans group sued the Defense Department in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, alleging that federal law was being broken.
The military said in court documents that it had begun to re-post decisions after they were checked for personal information. Decisions that hadn’t been re-posted yet were still available upon request. About 25,000 decisions had been re-posted by early March, the military said.
On April 2, U.S. District Court Judge Rossie Alston Jr. dismissed the veteran group’s lawsuit. Alston wrote that the group failed to show a “specific instance” in which it was unable to fulfill its mission because of a lack of information.
The judge also wrote that the court lacks jurisdiction over a matter that is essentially about improving the military’s performance. He said the group’s main contention is that the military is “not working fast enough” or with enough “fervor.”
The legal battle is playing out at a time of growing recognition that a less-than-honorable discharge can stem from behaviors brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.
Veterans with combat-related mental health conditions and those who were sexually assaulted while in the military are supposed to be given liberal consideration when requesting a discharge upgrade.