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DC Pro Bono Week Profiles: Latham & Watkins Pro Bono Team

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is thrilled to celebrate the achievement of the DC-based, Latham & Watkins pro bono team comprised of associate Michael Clemente and partners Adam Greenfield and Eugene Elrod. The Latham team secured a systemic victory for veterans in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on behalf of Vietnam War combat veteran Robert Doyon. The Federal Circuit adopted a broad rule that will significantly help veterans seeking medical retirements related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Federal Circuit held that every Board for Correction of Military Records decision must apply liberal consideration to applications, like Mr. Doyon’s, that seek a medical retirement for PTSD.

Mr. Doyon served honorably in the Navy at the height of the Vietnam War. But, after he acquired severe PTSD symptoms from the traumatic events he experienced during his service, the Navy expeditiously discharged him for an alleged “personality disorder.” Because the Navy discharged Mr. Doyon on this basis, he did not receive a medical retirement, and he was stigmatized by the inaccurate diagnosis on his discharge certificate.

A medical retirement confers extensive DOD benefits, including monthly retirement payments and military medical care (“Tricare”) for the service member, his or her spouse, and the servicemember’s children while they remain dependents. Mr. Doyon first sought assistance from NVLSP to apply to the Board for Correction of Naval Records for medical retirement benefits for his PTSD. NVLSP, through its Lawyers Serving Warriors® pro bono program, placed his case with Latham in 2017. Unfortunately, Mr. Doyon’s application for medical retirement was denied by the Board, which failed to apply “liberal consideration” to his application.

NVLSP and Latham then appealed to Court of Federal Claims, which upheld the Navy’s decision, including the failure to apply liberal consideration. Mr. Doyon, with the continued advocacy of NVLSP and Latham, appealed further to the Federal Circuit.

On January 25, 2023, in Doyon v. United States, the Federal Circuit reversed the Court of Federal Claims’ decision below and held that the Navy was required to apply liberal consideration to applications, like Mr. Doyon’s, that seek medical retirement based on PTSD. In reaching that conclusion, the Federal Circuit addressed the applicable statute and DOD guidance, concluding that they both independently require liberal consideration. The case has been remanded for application of liberal consideration to Mr. Doyon’s medical retirement claim.

Many veterans of all eras have been denied medical retirement due to the Board’s refusal to apply liberal consideration to medical retirement claims for PTSD from combat, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or military sexual trauma (MST). When Mr. Doyon served in Vietnam, PTSD was not a recognized diagnosis. Liberal consideration is needed to provide justice for all veterans who were improperly denied medical retirement with the subsequent understanding of the impact of PTSD, TBI, or MST. These veterans will now be able to have their applications for medical retirements considered under the liberal consideration standard.

NVLSP is deeply appreciative of the excellent advocacy of Michael Clemente, Adam Greenfield, and Eugene Elrod, of Latham & Watkins. The Federal Circuit decision will have wide-reaching impact for veterans with PTSD seeking the significant medical retirement benefits they have earned through their military service.

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