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Veterans Legal Clinic Files Class Action Against Massachusetts Treasury on Behalf of Veterans with Bad-Paper Discharges

Jeffrey Machado, one of the lead plaintiffs, while serving in Afghanistan.

Jeffrey Machado, one of the lead plaintiffs, while serving in Afghanistan.

On June 29, the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed a class action lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court on behalf of Army combat veteran Jeffrey Machado and an estimated 4,000 veterans from Massachusetts who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere since 9/11 but are considered to be undeserving of the state’s $1000 Welcome Home Bonus given to servicemembers when they are honorably discharged from the military.

The lead plaintiffs in this suit are two former Soldiers from Massachusetts who deployed to Afghanistan, honorably completed their enlistments, re-enlisted so that they could continue serving their country, and then later left the military with a bad-paper discharge assigned to their final enlistment periods.  Both are diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to their deployments and experienced family and health issues that contributed to the conduct that led to the bad-paper discharges.

The Massachusetts Legislature created the Welcome Home Bonus in 2005, continuing a long tradition of providing benefits to returning servicemembers from Massachusetts. However, the Massachusetts State Treasury, which is charged with administering the Bonus program, recently decided that the two veteran plaintiffs were not eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus because their final enlistment periods ended with bad-paper discharges, despite the fact that their prior enlistments during which they had deployed had ended with honorable discharges.

“As the class action complaint sets forth, the Treasurer has violated its governing statute by failing to give due credit to these two men and others like them who honorably completed enlistments, immediately reenlisted, but later left the military with bad-paper discharges that applied only to their final enlistment,” says Dana Montalto, Senior Clinical Fellow at the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center. “These veterans should be eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus based on the service that the military already deemed fully honorable.”

Daniel Nagin, Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic, adds, “The Treasury’s decision to deny bonuses to these veterans is especially unjust because they could have applied for the Bonus after they returned from Afghanistan and were still on active duty, and the Treasury would no doubt have approved their applications. Only because these veterans happened to apply after they left the service and returned to Massachusetts did the Treasury’s misunderstanding of the law cause these veterans to be denied the Bonus.”

Thousands of American men and women have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, experienced hardships, and risked their lives in war zones. More than 135,000 post-9/11 veterans have bad-paper discharges. The Government Accountability Office recently found that 62 percent of servicemembers separated for misconduct from fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the prior two years with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, or another mental health condition.

“These men and women volunteered for military duty when most Americans do not,” notes Montalto. “Many of them have physical or mental wounds because of that service—but choose to reenlist and continue serving. Yet, when those mental and emotional burdens become too great and the end result is a bad-paper discharge, the Commonwealth is unlawfully choosing to find that the entirety of the military service of these individuals is worthless. The Welcome Home Bonus law does not permit that kind of judgment.”

More than 150,000 men and women from Massachusetts have volunteered to enlist in the armed forces since 9/11. About 7 percent of them left the military with a bad-paper discharge assigned to their last period of service. While many did not reenlist, the Veterans Legal Clinic team estimates that about 4,000 did complete their first enlistment contract with an honorable discharge and then re-enlisted, but received a bad-paper discharge related to that subsequent enlistment. This group should be eligible for the Welcome Home Bonus, Clinic attorneys say.

“Both plaintiffs feel that this case is less about the Bonus payment itself and more about having the Commonwealth recognize the honorable military service that they and thousands of fellow veterans dedicated to this nation,” says Montalto.  “We are filing this lawsuit on their behalf to ensure that they and others get the recognition they deserve.”

Click here for a copy of the complaint.

Additional coverage of the case comes from WBUR and Stars & Stripes.