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Veterans Affairs Accused of Decades-Long Bias Against Black Military Veterans

Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic (Clinic) filed a federal lawsuit accusing the U.S. government of discriminating against Black military veterans. Conley Monk Jr. is a Black Vietnam War veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. After returning home from the Vietnam War, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied Monk's applications for education, housing, and disability benefits; it continued to do so for decades. In December 2020, the VA changed its mind and finally allowed Monk his benefits. Monk and the Clinic then gathered records from the VA that demonstrate differences in benefit outcomes between white and Black veterans. The VA denied benefits for Black applicants approximately 30% of the time while it rejected white applicants just 24% of the time.

The Clinic’s complaint asserts, “The negligence of VA leadership, and their failure to train, supervise, monitor, and instruct agency officials to take steps to identify and correct racial disparities, led to systematic benefits obstruction for Black veterans.”  One Army veteran, who is also a co-founder of the Black Veterans Project, told The Washington Post that it appears the VA never evaluated whether race impacted its benefits decisions. The long-term consequence of this failure was a denial of “generational wealth and social advancement” for Black veterans. The lawsuit seeks to hold the VA accountable for the impact of its decisions.

The VA has not publicly addressed the lawsuit but did assert it was working to root out systemic racism in its system. This work includes reviewing policies that caused Black veterans to unjustly receive punitive discharges, resulting in the blockage of their benefits. "Throughout history, there have been unacceptable disparities in both VA benefits decisions and military discharge status due to racism, which have wrongly left Black veterans without access to VA care and benefits,” according to the VA press secretary. The VA said it is “actively working to right these wrongs.”