This Marine Says The Corps ‘Kicked’ Him ‘To the Curb.’ Now He’s Fighting Back

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In 2003, Tyson Manker was a 21-year-old Marine corporal leading an infantry squad during the invasion of Iraq. He saw combat, served under fire, and witnessed the indiscriminate violence of war first-hand.


By the end of that year, he was kicked out of the Corps with an other-than-honorable discharge — one of several punitive separations the military hands down, which preclude veterans from accessing health, education, and disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Manker’s bad paper discharge, as they’re often called, stemmed from self-medicating with marijuana to treat the symptoms of his then-undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. This was an injury brought on by being party to the accidental death of civilians during chaotic frontline combat on the streets of Iraq at the height of the invasion, according to a March 2 New York Times profile of the former Marine turned-attorney and veterans advocate.

Today, Manker, joined by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Navy’s discharge review board on the basis that it has a “systemic institutional bias or secret policy that discriminates against applicants who suffer from PTSD.”

In 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued new guidelines for upgrading discharges, instructing review boards to give “liberal consideration” to the possibility that post-traumatic stress disorder could have contributed to an other-than-honorable discharge. While the Army and Air Force quickly stepped in line, the Navy review board has hardly budged.

As of 2017, the Army and Air Force discharge review boards granted upgrades to 51% of applicants whose appeals were linked to PTSD, according to a Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic statement. For the Navy review board, which oversees appeals from sailors and Marines —  just 16% of similar applications were approved.

Manker attempted to upgrade his discharge in 2016 and submitted  a 65-page petition to the board — only to receive a denial of just several pages, rife with misspellings, the New York Times notes.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Manker filed the March 2 suit on behalf of himself and other similarly discharged Marines and sailors, and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress is representing its members in the lawsuit against Richard V. Spencer, the secretary of the Navy.

“Fifteen years ago when we came home from Iraq and were treated like the scum of the earth, we never thought this day would come,” Manker said during a March 2 press conference in New Haven, Connecticut. “And when I say ‘we,’ I’m referring to the thousands of Marines and sailors who were kicked to the curb by an ungrateful country and a military that prioritizes mission accomplishment over troop welfare at all costs.”

The VA issued a new policy last year permitting veterans with other-than-honorable discharges to receive emergency mental health care. But the vast majority of VA mental health care resources remain out of reach for them.

“Not everyone who serves overseas and is injured comes back missing a limb,” Manker said. “That doesn’t mean that everyone who comes back is perfectly okay … When soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen go to serve on the front lines in a foreign country, when they’re injured, their injuries aren’t properly treated.”

That, Manker added, “is a national disgrace and we’re putting our foot down — no more business as usual.”

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Courtesy Tyson Manker
Ryan Kules

Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.

On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

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"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

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