The Last Bastion of Hope for Redress in the Military: The Civil Suit

“The Cycle of Absurdity” : Seeking Redress from the Military within the Military

As we approach the end of second year of operation at the Walk the Talk Foundation, one thing has become painfully obvious: the chance that an individual service member has for fair, timely, and just redress in the military is slim and getting increasingly slimmer.  From the 300+ individuals we’ve advised, here is the typical pattern which a victim of abuse in the military experiences:

  1. They first consider not reporting the wrongdoing, which many victims in fact do;
  2. They then seek redress through the chain-of-command which is many times either the perpetrator, or the entity that complicity allowed the wrongdoing to occur;
  3. They then look to other so-called “independent” avenues of redress such as the Inspector General, but find instead a corrupt mechanism subjected to influences of the very same chain-of-command they seek recourse from;
  4. They then consider going to Congress, or the press, or hiring a civilian attorney, and while these may sound promising, ultimately the very same institution is asked to hold itself accountable, something it rarely if ever does.

Unfortunately, at least for the individual military member, the system has an inherent, but not unintentional, design flaw: the military command structure oversees all of the aforementioned apparatuses for providing redress for the member.  To boot, these processes are laden with other hindrances to due process, to include:

  1. Lack of transparency in the investigation and proceedings,
  2. No mandated timeline for the proceedings,
  3. No functional oversight of the proceedings,
  4. A limited ability of the member to appeal findings,
  5. Investigations which are carried out by inadequately trained personnel,
  6. Investigations that are not conducted with due diligence.

So, is the individual service member without hope?  If they are the victim of a wrongdoing in the military, especially one which is backed by the institution which so many are, are they simply “S.O.L.”?  We believe the answer is no and we submit that the one last breath of hope, save for the creation of a completely independent investigative arm outside of the DoD’s clutches, is civil litigation.  Over the coming weeks, this Foundation’s mission will gradually pivot in terms of its focus and target clientele.  We will begin to aggressively pursue means by which we can outmaneuver, circumvent, and potentially alter the infamous “Feres Doctrine,” the law which has provided abusive and corrupt leaders in the military to operate with impunity for decades.  

A Need for Circumvention of The Norm: Civil Suits

Ideally, the end state of our endeavors would be to see the creation of an independent investigative arm outside the sphere of the chain of command’s undue influence.  Until that comes to fruition, however, service members in today’s military desperately need the ability to be offered justice.  We vehemently believe this will result in a marked increase in retention within the armed services.  It is because of this goal, that we are seeking alternative approaches to methods of redress which are now unequivocally failing to provide justice to the individual.  One of these approaches, and the subject of this article, is exploring the potential of having service members file civil suits against those who have wronged them.

The Goal of the Civil Suit: Not Binary in Nature, Not Monetary

Traditionally, civil suits have been thought of as having a goal of monetary restitution with the measures of success being the amount of restitution awarded to the plaintiff.  Although that same measure of success will apply to these lawsuits, we also have the additional goals of establishing both precedent as well as an important narrative: that military leaders can no longer act with impunity and be completely protected by the blanket of the DoD’s corrupt “justice” apparatus.  We believe this can be achieved if and when a large number of service members file suit against individuals, active duty and retired, who have wronged them.  In most cases, the primary goal of the en masse civil suits will not to be receive restitution, but rather to establish a new precedent / narrative by which two aims will be achieved:

  1. Service members will have an exemplar to follow when filing suits in the future, 
  2. Current and future leaders of the military will be “put on notice” that their actions can and will be scrutinized by an outside avenue of justice.

With that being said, the ultimate goal during this exploratory phase is this: 

To establish a vehicle that will provide the individual service member an affordable means by which they are able to file a civil suit that has the potential to garner them restitution for having been wronged while serving.

Nuts and Bolts

Roughly speaking, the approach to this effort will be broken down into three phases:

  1. Exploratory – consult with experts to determine feasibility
  2. “Marketing” – publicize the effort to service members and veterans
  3. En masse filing – filing as many suits as possible at the execution date

Individual lawsuits will:

  1. Be filed by individual service members against individual(s) who they assert wronged them,
  2. Cite specific violations of rules/regulations/laws,
  3. Not be constrained by previous IG/EEO/chain-of-command “findings”.

Suits of this nature will vary from those previous in that:

  1. There will, ideally, be a large number filed nearly simultaneously,
  2. They will identify and allege wrongdoings by named individuals of all ranks and positions,
  3. They will also name as defendants those military personnel who have recently separated or retired.

It is important to emphasize here that, due to a myriad of factors to include and especially resource constraints, the primary goal of these suits is not monetary restitution, but rather establishment of a precedent / narrative.  The corollary to this is that the vast majority of suits will not survive “first contact,” i.e. plaintiffs will not see the suit through to a traditional “end” per se.  Most will file suit if nothing else to have it on public record that the defendant has been accused of a wrongdoing while serving in the armed forces.  Some plaintiffs may elect to pursue the suit further if they feel their chances of restitution are worth the time, effort, and money required to achieve it.