Veterans Affairs denied benefits to black people at higher rates for years, lawsuit says

Obtaining benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs has been disproportionately more difficult for black Americans for decades, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.

“The results of VA’s racial discrimination have been to deny countless meritorious applications from black veterans, depriving them and their families of the care and support their faithful service has earned,” the lawsuit states.

Filed in federal court by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on behalf of Conley Monk Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, the lawsuit claims Monk was repeatedly denied a loan real estate, an education and medical benefits because he is black.

Monk is far from alone, according to the file. According to VA records obtained in Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, of which Monk is co-founder and director, and the Black Veterans Project, the average rate of Disability compensation denial was 5.3% higher for Black veterans than their white counterparts between 2001 and 2020. And the racial disparity for average acceptance rates was even higher – 6.8%.

“They failed to repair the pervasive and longstanding racial discrimination and disparate impacts of which they knew or should have been aware,” the suit reads.

Adam Henderson, one of the Yale Law School student interns working on the case, said their legal team had three goals: get reparations for Monk, get Veterans Affairs to listen, and create a better legal path. for other black veterans to get justice.

“We hope that in the future there won’t be another generation of veterans under the same system,” Henderson said.

In a statement, Veterans Affairs press secretary Terrence Hayes acknowledged “unacceptable disparities in decisions regarding VA benefits and military discharge status due to racism” – adding that the department is studying the role that race plays in benefit decisions and that the results will be released as soon as possible. as they are available.

“We are actively working to right these wrongs,” he said. “We are taking steps to ensure that our complaints process combats institutional racism, rather than perpetuating it.”

At a press conference Monday after the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke about the disproportionate denial of benefits to black veterans and said called for answers.

“We know the results,” he said. “We want to know why.”

Henderson, who is black, and Mike Sullivan, another Yale Law School intern working with the clinic on Monk’s case, said they each found special meaning in helping Monk. “It’s really like serving a brother,” said Sullivan, who enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school.

Henderson, however, said there was still a lot to do.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The clinic and Mr. Monk will continue to fight every step of the way.”


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