Researchers at the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center discovered that other-than-honorable discharges are around 1.5 times more common for African-Americans than for white service members.
The nation typically spends Veterans Day honoring soldiers for their service. But a study released this holiday sheds light on the reality that Black veterans receive fewer benefits than their white counterparts because of racism.
According to The Washington Post, the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center’s “Discretionary Injustice” study looked at more than 1 million military releases. It found that Black veterans are much more likely to carry the stigma of a less-than-honorable discharge.
According to the report, people who receive less-than-honorable discharges can be denied access to assistance programs in areas such as housing, education, career training and health care.
The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges the racial bias and promises to address the issue.
“We fully understand that there are disparities in discharge status due to racism, which unfairly disadvantage Black Veterans and, sometimes, wrongly leave Black Veterans without access to VA care and benefits,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes told The Post via email.
According to Hayes, the department is reviewing its procedures for dealing with veterans who have wrongfully received other-than-honorable discharges and is working to end institutional racism in the claims process.
Researchers at the Legal Center examined all discharges from the Defense Department from the 2014 fiscal year through the 2022 fiscal year for their report. They discovered that other-than-honorable discharges are around 1.5 times more common for African-American veterans than for white ones. They noted that there was no similar pronounced gap across other racial and ethnic groups.
The study follows a report from the Brandeis Institute for Economic and Racial Equity released in March. The Brandeis report asserted that the GI Bill, usually praised for giving significant financial support to those who served in World War II, really contributed to the racial wealth gap and had a detrimental effect on African-Americans.
While the GI Bill does not refer to race, the Brandeis report claims officials implemented it through local discriminatory policies. As a result, veterans of African-American descent received only 40% of the benefits of veterans of white ancestry. The report said Black veterans had an average net worth of $45,650, while their white counterparts’ average was $147,500.
Despite the bill’s race-neutral language, the Brandeis report stated that segregation and systemic racism also hampered how Black veterans accessed their benefits.
“Black people could not use their money to buy education in White-only schools, or real estate in White-only neighborhoods,” it read, according to The Post. “Money is only valuable because it can be used to buy things, and Black veterans could use their money to buy fewer things.”
Democratic legislators are also working to correct the situation. The Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act would grant African-American veterans and their families additional benefits if they could demonstrate how racism influenced those benefits.
Black veterans and their families would receive additional funding if the GI Bill Restoration Act, originally introduced on Pearl Harbor Day 2020 and then just before Veterans Day last year, is passed.
If Black WWII veterans can demonstrate that they were “denied a specific benefit… on the basis of race,” their surviving spouses, children, grandchildren, and other immediate descendants may be eligible for housing and educational benefits along with them.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., the bill’s author, conceded it might be challenging to prove but emphasized that the clause was essential to prevent fraud and guarantee that only those eligible for benefits receive them. Currently, the effort is to get Republican support for the $80 billion plan.
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