A lawsuit filed Monday in Connecticut asserted that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has discriminated against “countless” Black military veterans going back decades.
The suit was brought by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on behalf of a Vietnam War veteran. Conley Monk Jr. says his applications for health care, home loans and education assistance were “repeatedly” turned away by the VA, according to the court filing.
Further, the lawsuit referenced internal VA data showing that from 2002 to 2020 the agency denied Black veterans seeking disability nearly 30% of the time versus white veterans roughly 24% of the time. It also found racial disparities existed in the administration of home loans and education assistance for qualifying veterans.
“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,” the complaint said. “VA leaders knew or should have known and negligently failed to redress.”
While not addressing the lawsuit directly, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement that the federal agency is working to combat “institutional racism,” including reviewing cases where veterans may have wrongly received punitive discharges, blocking their access to benefits.
A November 2022 study by the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center did in fact find that Black veterans disproportionately receive more punitive discharges for their service. And in a survey from 2020, nearly 80% of VA employees said endemic racism was a moderate or serious problem within the agency.
At a news conference in New Haven to announce the lawsuit, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said Monk is “leading the charge” in what he called “a truly historic” case.