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Veterans sue Army board in wake of Fusion investigation

Two U.S. veterans have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Army panel that was supposed to help them correct injustices in their military records, lawyers announced on Friday.

The suit comes just a week after a Fusion investigation revealed that the panel rarely lives up to its mandate, routinely denying thousands of former service members the chance to receive medical and health benefits from the government. It was filed in federal court against the Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR) on behalf of two Army combat veterans, Specialist Angelo Duran and Staff Sergeant Scott Fink, who submitted applications to the Board. Duran sought a medical discharge for combat-related injuries and Fink requested to return to military service.

Neither Duran nor Fink’s case was actually heard and deliberated by the Board. Instead, Army BCMR staff members sent them letters saying the applications “did not contain sufficient documentation to support their requests.”

They were denied without ever reaching Board members.

“Here’s a board created by Congress to handle these problems, and they don’t even give the veterans the dignity enough to have their cases heard by the Board members,” said Bart Stichman, co-executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, which is representing Duran and Fink on behalf of thousands of other vets along with Morrison & Foerster.

“It is totally undignified and against the law to have them do this, and it’s been going on for years. It’s sad that this is how we treat our veterans,” said Stichman.

Fusion’s investigation found that an average of 17,000 applications are filed to the Army BCMR each year — but only 9,000 are deliberated on by the Board, a panel of three senior-level civilians hand picked by the Secretary of the Army to make these decisions. Instead, they are handled by the Board’s staff.

The Army BCMR told Fusion that these cases are not handled by the Board for a variety of reasons, including the cases of people who applied to the wrong service and whose applications are incomplete.

This was not the case with Duran nor Fink, say their lawyers. Their cases were handled by counsel and included professionally prepared briefs and dozens of pages of supporting documentation.

The class-action lawsuit requests all similar denials made by the Board for Correction of Military Records be voided.

Regarding Fusion’s investigation, Stichman said, “this was a very important story that helped illuminate the major problems that exist with the Army corrections board.”

Click here to read Fusion’s investigation, “A Losing Battle: How the Army Denies Veterans Justice Without Anyone Knowing.

A previous version of this story did not mention the involvement of Morrison & Foerster in the lawsuit.