NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Connecticut accuses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of perpetuating a history of racial disparities in how it handles benefit program claims.
Conley Monk, Jr., who served in the Vietnam War, said that his applications for educating, housing and disability benefits had been denied for decades, according to an announcement. Then, in December 2020, he learned he’d been eligible the entire time.
“A Black veteran who served honorably, could walk into the VA, file a disability claim and be at a significantly higher likelihood of having that claim denied,” said Adam Henderson, a Yale law student.
Yale law students are acting as his lawyers in the case, which he hopes extends beyond himself. Monk’s father was denied benefits in the 1940s after fighting at Normandy in World War II.
Monk’s legal team said that he’s received records from the VA showing a “significant difference” between Black and white veterans, with Black veterans being denied at higher rates.
“We’re hoping and praying that we’re successful in our fight because, once again, it’s not only for me and my father,” Monk said. “It’s for thousands of other veterans.”
A written statement from Terrence Hayes, the VA press secretary, said that there have been “unacceptable disparities” with military discharge status that can be attributed to racism.
“We are actively working to right these wrongs, and we will stop at night to ensure that all Black Veterans get the VA services they have earned and deserve,” the written statement reads. “We are currently studying racial disparities in benefits claims decisions, and we will publish the results of that study as soon as they are available — but we are not waiting on the results of the study to take action.”
The VA Center for Minority Veterans created Veteran Experience Action Centers across the country, which makes one-on-one help available to Black veterans navigating the claims process. Between April and June of 2022, more than 650 Black veterans have received aid, giving the process an 80% “trust score.”
“Additionally, we are taking steps to ensure that our claims process combats institutional racism, rather than perpetuating it; re-evaluating our policies to equitably serve Veterans who were wrongly given Other Than Honorable discharges; and proactively reaching out to Veterans with Other Than Honorable discharges to make sure they know that they may be able to access VA benefits and health care,” the statement reads.