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The VA rolls out its new equity team to investigate racism in benefits decisions

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.
J.D. Allen
The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a dedicated team to investigate racial disparities in its benefits decisions — due in part to a veteran from Connecticut who sued the VA for discrimination.

The VA said its Equity Team will work to improve outcomes for minority veterans who apply for benefits, and eliminate racial disparities in its decision-making process.

The formation of the new team comes after Conley Monk Jr., a Black veteran from New Haven, sued the VA, alleging the agency denies benefit applications from Black veterans at higher rates than for whites.

"The VA’s equity team is progress, but it’s not repair for the harm the agency has done to thousands of black veterans," said Adam Henderson at the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, a group that represents Monk. "The VA has been fighting continuously to have Mr. Monk's case thrown out of court, and this action speaks louder than the VA's press release about an equity team that may or may not even be able to enact the changes needed to help Black veterans."

Henderson said the agency's investigation of itself runs the risk of further inaction.

The VA has admitted in the past that racial disparities in benefit decisions do exist, and called those outcomes “unacceptable.”

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement that the equity team's "first order of business will be identifying any disparities in VA health care and benefits and eliminating them."

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.