The Department of Veterans Affairs has routinely discriminated against black veterans since World War II while approving disability claims for white applicants at a greater rate, which leads to benefits such as housing and education assistance, a lawsuit says.
Vietnam War veteran Conley Monk Jr. filed the case Monday, which gives a historical analysis showing black applicants were rejected 30% of the time compared to whites at 24% from 2002 to 2020. Monk said he saw this firsthand as he was unable to get disability assistance, the Washington Post reported.
“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 claims. “VA leaders knew or should have known and negligently failed to redress.”
The statistics were obtained from the VA, which only dates back to 2002 because earlier records were not kept. In 2017, an effort was made to look at the link between race and post-traumatic stress disorder claims, but the VA never followed through with the study.
“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,” VA spokesman Terrence Hayes told the Washington Post. “We are actively working to right these wrongs.”
VA benefits for home loans and college assistance date back to a GI Bill law in 1944, which helped create America’s great middle class and economic boom. For the black families that did receive benefits, the end result was not as great a success, a 2022 Brandeis University study found.
“Black veterans approved by the VA who attempted to use their benefits faced a society openly hostile to their success,” the study said. “Redlining and racial covenants kept Black veterans and their families from benefiting from the well-funded schools and blossoming property values of post-war suburbia.”
Monk came from a military family, with his father serving in the Army during WWII. Monk Sr., who is now deceased, was unable to obtain disability benefits for a stomach problem. The case is seeking $1 million in damages for denial of Monk Sr.’s claims.
Monk Jr. developed PTSD after his deployment in Vietnam, where he drove supplies and troops through intense fighting. Roads were often littered with bodies. It would be years after his discharge that Monk realized PTSD was a medical condition for which he could receive benefits. But he was not treated, and his applications were denied.
“I was angry at VA for denying me services even though I fought in Vietnam honorably,” he said. “The government was like my enemy. They were not there for me.”