Dec 4, 2022

VA denied benefits for Black veterans at higher rate for decades, lawsuit says Transcript

VA denied benefits for Black veterans at higher rate for decades, lawsuit says Transcript
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A new lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs alleges decades of discrimination against Black military veterans. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

The US government has discriminated against African American military veterans dating back decades, disproportionately rejecting disability claims from Black veterans at a much higher rate than white veterans. That’s according to a new lawsuit filed in federal court this past week by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. The group filed the suit on behalf of Conley Monk, Jr., a Vietnam War veteran whose VA benefits were denied for nearly 50 years. He’s joining me now along with Richard Brookshire, who served in the US Army before co-founding the Black Veterans Project. Welcome to you both.

Richard Brookshire (00:35):

Thank you.

Conley Monk, Jr. (00:35):

I’m happy to be here. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (00:38):

And Mr. Monk, you enlisted in November 1968. You served in Vietnam, but you were wrongfully denied an honorable discharge, which meant that you received no VA benefits. The VA denied your applications for education, housing, and disability benefits before finally agreeing in December, 2020 that you were in fact eligible all along. How did the lack of VA benefits affect your life?

Conley Monk, Jr. (01:05):

It really damaged me by this not letting my family receive any form of benefits. I couldn’t receive any benefits, and neither could they. So my kids was not entitled to educational benefits, which they should have been entitled to. They could have also got some sort of stipend while they was going to school. And also the fact that I couldn’t even get my job back.

I worked for the VA when I left to go in the military and I came home, I couldn’t get my job back. I joined, I did not get drafted. So I wanted to go to fight for my country, to be involved in the Vietnam War. I felt that I was totally robbed of my rightful dues when I came back from Vietnam. I served honorably in Vietnam. I was involved in a lot of different combat actions. It was totally a disgrace to me and my family and the fact that we was denied benefits that I was rightfully entitled to.

Speaker 1 (02:24):

Richard Brookshire, you created the Black Veterans Project, which is a nonprofit that researches the inequities that Black veterans face after you struggled to get the resources you needed when you came back from Afghanistan. Give us a sense of your story and why do you think these hurdles have persisted across generations?

Richard Brookshire (02:42):

Yeah. I served as a combat medic for seven years, four of those were on active duty, three of them in the New York State National Guard, and had a difficult transition out of the military that I wasn’t actually anticipating. I wasn’t taken seriously by the VA, so I found myself unfortunately on the other side of a suicide attempt. And it just so happens that after that attempt, I started to really engage the Black veterans community. But I’d also started to engage, what are the disparities? I’m living with them, I’m starting to see them.

But getting a better sense of the numbers was kind of like the first instinct for me. So we went to Yale and said, “Hey, we want the most contemporary data to look at. Are their disparities in disability compensation?” Because I’ve heard about disparities of the GI Bill at the turn of World War II. Think Conley is the perfect example of how dishonorable discharges have perpetuated locking many Black vets, even to this very day, out of access to their benefits.

Speaker 1 (03:40):

And Mr. Monk, to Richard’s point about the sort of generational aspect of this, you come from a family of service members. Your father fought in the segregated unit during World War II. Your siblings were also in the armed forces. And you make the point that you and your siblings could have gone to college potentially if your father had gotten the benefits that he applied for and was denied back in the 1940s.

Conley Monk, Jr. (04:04):

Yes. And it continued after my father, my daughter, my baby girl, she had to struggle to work and go to school and she owe a hundred thousand dollars on a student loan at this present date. She’s now a principal in one of the major high schools. But we suffered. We sustained an injury and we continue to, and I think it snowballed down to my grandkids. My grandkids, they would’ve had a better chance of going to school if they would’ve been entitled to the monies that their mother could have got to go to school to help them out. And not only that, the housing benefits. We was denied housing benefits where I could not get a housing loan. My father had to work two full-time jobs in order to provide a living situation for us. So yeah, it really damaged my family, me and my family.

Speaker 1 (05:21):

Well, we reached out to the VA to get a statement in response to this lawsuit, and without addressing the merits of the suit, we got this statement that reads, part of which reads this way: “Secretary McDonough has made clear that delivering world class timely, equitable care and benefits to all veterans is our top priority at VA. 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. We are actively working to right these wrongs and we will stop at nothing to ensure that all Black veterans get the VA services they have earned and deserve.”

Richard Brookshire, the VA is acknowledging that yes, there’s a problem. I guess the question is what should be done about it?

Richard Brookshire (06:07):

Fostering equity is great and noble, but it’s not redress. I think this administration has been really supportive, but I also think that there’s been decades to do something about this. We’re 75 years out next year looking at the fully integrated force that we have now, and it’s a time for a reckoning and it’s a time to account for the history and the ills that have been done and at the hands of the VA.

Speaker 1 (06:29):

Mr. Monk, what are you hoping that this lawsuit filed on your behalf achieves?

Conley Monk, Jr. (06:35):

Well, I hope that it opens up the door for other vets to not be able to be blocked just like I was, where they can go ahead and get their disability benefits without being discriminated against. Reparations and compensation is what I think should occur.

Speaker 1 (06:57):

Conley Monk, Jr. and Richard Brookshire, I thank you both for your time and for your insights.

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