Lawsuit alleges US government discriminated against Black veterans for decades

A lawsuit filed Monday claims the U.S. government has long discriminated against Black military veterans, a pattern that has led them to miss out on housing and education benefits disproportionately compared to their white peers.

The suit, brought by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC) on behalf of Vietnam War veteran Conley Monk Jr., asserts that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied Monk’s applications for education, housing and disability benefits for “decades.”

The clinic contends the lawsuit could “provide a legal pathway for Black veterans to seek reparations from the VA” and, going forward, help determine whether individuals can seek compensation from the federal government for systemic prejudices that have disadvantaged them.

“This lawsuit seeks to hold the VA accountable for years of discriminatory conduct,” Adam Henderson, a law student working on the case with the VLSC, said in a release on the lawsuit.

“VA leaders knew, or should have known, that they were administering benefits in a discriminatory manner, yet they failed to address this unlawful bias. Mr. Monk — and thousands of Black veterans like him — deserve redress for the harms caused by these negligently administered programs,” Henderson said.

The Washington Post first reported on the lawsuit, which used internal VA data that showed that over nearly two decades, from 2002 to 2020, the agency denied Black applicants seeking disability benefits nearly 30 percent of the time. In comparison, white applicants were denied 24 percent of the time.

The data also showed racial disparities in VA claims for home loans and education benefits.

VA press secretary Terrence Hayes told the Post that the agency is working to combat “institutional racism,” though he did not mention the lawsuit.

He added that officials are reviewing VA policies for veterans who wrongly received less than honorable discharges from the military, which most often lead the agency to deny them 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,” Hayes said. “We are actively working to right these wrongs.”

In a statement, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said he is “deeply concerned” by the reports of racial discrimination in VA care and benefits and that the findings uncovered by the VLSC and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress “demand immediate attention.”

“Stronger oversight and clear action should be taken promptly to stop any discrimination —  absolutely abhorrent wherever it occurs,” Blumenthal said. “All who serve and sacrifice for our great nation deserve equal treatment and protection.”

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