Army sued over discharges of soldiers with addiction issues

Apr 28, 2022, 11:10 AM | Updated: 11:52 am

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The U.S. Army is violating veterans’ rights, its own regulations and the Constitution by refusing to give soldiers with alcohol and drug use disorders honorable discharges that would qualify them for federal benefits, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

Army veteran Mark Stevenson, with help from students at Yale Law School, is suing Army Secretary Christine Wormuth in federal court in Connecticut, seeking to force the military branch to upgrade the discharge statuses of himself and other veterans who were given less-than-honorable discharges because of misconduct related to their substance abuse disorders.

The lawsuit is similar to previous ones filed by Yale’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on behalf of former military members with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues who were denied honorable discharges because of misconduct. Those cases resulted in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines agreeing to reconsider those discharge decisions based on new criteria that acknowledge mental health problems can affect behavior.

An Army spokesperson declined to comment on the new lawsuit, saying the branch does not publicly respond to pending litigation.

Stevenson, 63, of Stratford, Connecticut, enlisted in the Army in 1977 and said he developed problems with alcohol and drugs while stationed in then-West Germany as an auto mechanic. He said his substance abuse, including using hashish — a concentrated form of marijuana — and heroin, was a factor in him going AWOL three times and receiving a less-than-honorable discharge.

Now a certified substance abuse counselor and sober for two decades, Stevenson said the Army Board for Correction of Military Records denied his request for a discharge upgrade in December and refused to recognize substance use disorders as mental health conditions.

“I made serious mistakes,” he said in a statement provided by the Yale legal clinic. “But I now have two decades of sobriety. I have taken accountability for my actions. I’ve repaired relationships in my life, and become a mentor to fellow veterans and others struggling with addiction.”

The military issues thousands of less-than-honorable discharges every year, which disqualifies veterans from health and counseling benefits that may help them, according to the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

The Army is violating military policy to provide “liberal consideration” in discharge decisions of whether misconduct was related to mental health problems, the clinic said. The branch also is violating due process rights under the Fifth Amendment that require federal agencies to follow their own regulations and guidance, it said.

“This decision harms veterans with addictions … an already doubly-stigmatized group,” Dena Shata, a Yale Law School student interning with the clinic, said in a statement. “Mr. Stevenson has rededicated his life to serving his community and other veterans. The Army’s decision to meet his service with discrimination is unconscionable, and unlawful.”

Stevenson said he didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs when he enlisted in the military. He said his time in West Germany was tense, as a German gang opposed to America’s presence launched terrorist attacks that killed and wounded U.S. military members. Stevenson, who is Black, also said he was subjected to racist acts by fellow soldiers, as well as by German locals.

To cope, he said he began self-medicating with alcohol and hashish, and later heroin. He claimed the Army “normalized” substance abuse in Germany by providing each soldier with a monthly ration card for three gallons of liquor, 20 packs of cigars and four cartons of cigarettes.

After his AWOL incidents, he received an “other than honorable” discharge that barred him from receiving VA benefits. He struggled with addiction for two decades and ended up homeless in 2002, when he checked himself into a treatment program. He completed the program and worked a few jobs before earning an associate’s degree and becoming a substance abuse counselor.

“A second chance would mean everything to me,” he said of his quest for an honorable discharge.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Tom Cruise gestures for photographers during the red carpet event to promote their latest movie Top...
Associated Press

‘Elvis,’ ‘Top Gun’ tie for box-office crown with $30.5M each

"Elvis" shook up theaters with an estimated $30.5 million in weekend sales, but -- in a box-office rarity -- it tied "Top Gun: Maverick."
22 hours ago
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos reacts after his goal during the first period of Game 6 o...
Associated Press

Avalanche dethrone Lightning to win Stanley Cup for 3rd time

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Nathan MacKinnon could not find the words. Gabriel Landeskog cracked a smile and a joke. After years of playoff disappointments, the Colorado Avalanche are back atop hockey’s mountain after dethroning the two-time defending champions. Behind a goal and an assist from MacKinnon, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the third […]
22 hours ago
In this photo released by the Longmont Police Department the Life Choices building in Longmont, Col...
Associated Press

Police investigating fire at Colorado pregnancy center

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) — A weekend fire at a Christian pregnancy center in north-central Colorado is being investigated as a possible arson, police in Longmont said. The fire at Life Choices was reported at 3:17 a.m. Saturday, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and said abortion laws would be decided by […]
22 hours ago
The Very Rev. Kris Stubna, rector of St. Paul Cathedral Parish, preaches on the topic of abortion a...
Associated Press

After Roe’s demise, clergy lead faithful in praise, laments

Praise and lament for the overturning of abortion rights filled sacred spaces this weekend as clergy across the U.S. rearranged worship plans or rewrote sermons to provide their religious context — and competing messages — about the historic moment. Abortion is a visceral issue for deeply divided religious Americans. Some are sad or angry in […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Poisonous bite leads German police to farm with 110 snakes

BERLIN (AP) — Police in Germany said Sunday they discovered more than 110 dangerous snakes on a farm after a woman who lived there sought medical treatment for a poisonous bite. The 35-year-old woman drove to a hospital in Salzgitter, near Hannover, early Sunday and told doctors there that one of her rattlesnakes bit her […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Average US gasoline price drops 4 cents to $5.05 per gallon

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline fell by 4 cents per gallon in the past two weeks to $5.05 for regular grade, it was reported Sunday. It was the first drop in nine weeks and came with a drop in oil prices amid deepening global inflation fears, industry analyst Trilby […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
Army sued over discharges of soldiers with addiction issues