Montclair State student wins precedent-setting legal battle against the Department of the Army

When Sergeant 1st Class Scott R. Smith was killed in 2006 in Iraq by an improvised explosive device, Garilynn Smith, the sergeant’s widow and currently a law major at Montclair State University, was overcome with grief. , as any military widow would. be. Gold Star families make the ultimate sacrifice and are viewed with great respect and dignity.

sergeant. 1st Class Scott R. Smith was killed in 2006 while deployed to Iraq.
Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

But when Gallynn Smith began to investigate what happened to her husband’s remains the following year, she was treated with all but respect and dignity over the next 15 years that passed.

When Smith finally got the answers she was looking for, what she found was truly shocking and heinous. After her husband was cremated, his partial remains were sent to a landfill in Virginia, bundled with medical waste.

The remains of soldiers killed in action should be treated with respect. A directive from the Ministry of Defense even orders it. But it would suggest spreading the ashes at sea or in Arlington National Cemetery or sending them home with next of kin if possible. But mixing American heroes with trash is anything but respectful.

The memorial case for Sgt.  1st Class Smith, showing his medals and badges.  Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

The memorial case for Sgt. 1st Class Smith, showing his medals and badges.
Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

She was first told of this information during a phone call with the military mortuary in Dover, Delaware, a year or two after her husband’s death, after much effort trying to get answers. At first, she didn’t believe it.

“[The man on the phone] cut me off again and said, “Nobody wanted your husband, so he was cremated with the rest of the medical waste from the hospital and thrown in the trash,” Smith said. “So that was my first information that I discovered. I obviously didn’t believe it. I thought the guy was just being rude and I thought he was pissed off.

Garilynn Smith is a law major and a Gold Star widow of 15 years.  Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

Garilynn Smith is a law major and a Gold Star widow of 15 years.
Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

But when she kept asking questions, she finally realized the man on the phone hadn’t been lying. A few years later, in 2011, after digging further, she received an informal letter from one of the Dover morgue officials confirming that her husband’s remains had been sent to a landfill in Virginia.

At the end of the letter, it was written: “I hope this information brings you some comfort during your time of loss.” This was not the case for Smith. And to add insult to injury, the letter had the wrong first name of Smith’s husband and the wrong date, with the year 2008 instead of 2011.

Outraged, Smith drove to a representative near her home, Congressman Rush Holt Jr., and told him what was going on. Once they started asking more questions, they discovered that the partial remains of at least 274 confirmed dead soldiers, and possibly more, had been treated similarly to those of Smith’s husband.

Smith then shared this information with The Washington Post after other whistleblowers reported other mishandling of deceased military personnel. The Post published an article exposing the situation on November 9, 2011.

At the same time, Smith was also a civilian employee of the military. After a brief stint working for the Navy’s civilian service, a job opened up at its former Army arsenal in 2012 that interested Smith. A colleague told her about the job, so she applied.

However, it was well known among the top brass at the Picatinny arsenal where she worked in New Jersey that she was investigating what happened to her husband’s remains. She had shared her story with the Washington Post which later denounced the military. She was a whistleblower.

First, the job application closed. Smith had a funny feeling about what was going on, but she applied again when the job application reopened.

She still hasn’t gotten the job. Smith was on the candidate list both times she applied, but she was passed over for a candidate who forgot to attach some documents the first time around.

Smith challenged the decision, saying the military violated a law prohibiting discrimination against whistleblowers. But it came to nothing. After more than two and a half years, the investigation by the Office of Special Counsel has come to an end. It was then that she decided to take legal action in 2015.

At first, she fought the battle alone, without a lawyer. That’s where Craig Corveleyn, an attorney working for Smith on other legal matters, came in.

Smith had told Corveleyn that the case probably wouldn’t go that far, that the army would probably settle.

“I was like, ‘Okay, [this will] be a way to keep in touch with the customer and maybe get something done and get it done quickly,’ Corveleyn said. “I had no idea that seven years later I would still be dealing with this case.”

Craig Corveleyn represented Smith in this case, which lasted for years.  Photo courtesy of Craig Corveleyn

Craig Corveleyn represented Smith in the case, which lasted for years.
Photo courtesy of Craig Corveleyn

The first hearing in the case was held in October 2016. Seven months later, the administrative law judge issued his decision: the Department of the Army had violated the whistleblower protection law when they passed on Smith in 2012. As a result, the judge ordered the military to give Smith the job she had applied for, along with back pay.

However, the Ministry of the Army appealed this decision. The department claimed the judge “was sympathetic” and “considered the hearsay evidence” in his decision. It wasn’t quite over for Smith yet.

In fact, it wasn’t over until five years later. The competent administrative tribunal, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), is usually made up of three members and needs at least two to make legal decisions. From the time of the appeal until just before it was decided in April 2022, there was one or no members on the council.

Why? The president appoints council members as they do for any other court, and the Senate must approve them. But regardless of the number of judges, both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, appointed, none have ever been called to vote in the Senate.

This was from January 2017 to March 2022. Smith had been dropped for the job 10 years ago. She had heard the news of her husband’s remains 11 years ago and had lost her husband nearly 16 years ago.

“How much longer in my life will they monopolize and take me?” said Smith. “Because I feel like 15 years of my life [have] been stolen fighting these battles. I have 42 years old. I gave up my career. I completely start over.

Gallynn Smith (right) spent years trying to find out what happened to the remains of her husband, Sergeant.  1st Class Scott R. Smith (left), and found herself in a years-long <a class=legal battle over what she discovered. Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith” width=”1284″ height=”1308″ data-uniq-id=”e1b55″ srcset=”https://21ym1q1oz7l4ipi243grtd61-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/8BEECE4A-54EF-42A9-B0B3-B414FD062E31.jpeg 1284w, https://21ym1q1oz7l4ipi243grtd61-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/8BEECE4A-54EF-42A9-B0B3-B414FD062E31-523×533.jpeg 523w, https://21ym1q1oz7l4ipi243grtd61-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/8BEECE4A-54EF-42A9-B0B3-B414FD062E31-1005×1024.jpeg 1005w, https://21ym1q1oz7l4ipi243grtd61-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/8BEECE4A-54EF-42A9-B0B3-B414FD062E31-768×782.jpeg 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 1284px) 100vw, 1284px”/>

Gallynn Smith (right) spent years trying to find out what happened to the remains of her husband, Sergeant. 1st Class Scott R. Smith (left), and found herself in a years-long legal battle over what she discovered.
Photo courtesy of Garilynn Smith

However, on March 1, 2022, two nominations were confirmed by the Senate. A month and a half later, on April 17, they rejected the ministry’s appeal and again decided on Smith’s side.

When Corevleyn texted her about the decisions, Smith was overwhelmed with relief.

“I just broke down,” Smith said. “‘I was just like ‘finally.’ For 15 years of mourning built in an instant to come out in 28 pages. [The judges] summed up my entire 15 years in 28 simple pages.

Smith and Corevelyn were so thrilled at first that they didn’t realize anything else. Their case was not like any other case; it was a precedent, meaning it will be used as the basis for similar cases in the future.

“I think the reason it set a precedent was [that] the court was concerned with the higher level stuff, with the whistleblower stuff, ‘Is she a whistleblower?’ Corevelyn said. “‘And if she is a whistleblower, has she undergone this prohibited personal practice?'”

The Army Department has 60 days from the court’s decision to appeal again, but Smith and Corveleyn don’t expect that to happen. Instead, Smith is focused on earning her bachelor’s degree this year and then moving on to law school, inspired by her own case. She hopes this case can also mean something to other whistleblowers.

“I’m obviously very proud of this case, but I feel like all of that work was worth it,” Smith said. “And I hope this is the case that will show others that they can make a difference, one voice can encourage people to come forward and undo mismanagement.”

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