BY GUMERSINDO GOMEZ, CHAIR
The Minority Affairs Committee continues to prepare for our diversity seminar at the Leadership & Education Conference in July. It promises to be an educational piece for all veterans, more so for those leaders in VVA who have minorities in their state councils or chapters, or who are trying to recruit minorities to join our ranks.
At the April Board meeting I presented a minority veterans membership application for approval. The front of the application depicts our diversity, our mission, vision, and our values; on the other side is the VVA general membership application. By using this application to recruit minority veterans, we will be able to track minorities in the organization. It might not give us a true number, but for the first time we will have some type of accountability.
I had an opportunity to study the VA report, “Focus on Health Equity and Action: Military Service History and VA Benefit Utilization for Minority Veterans,” and found important information on minority veterans and the VA. For example, 35 percent of all minority veterans had a high school diploma or less as their highest level of educational attainment in 2014, compared with 51.8 percent of non-veteran minorities. The number of minority veterans who use at least one VA benefit or service has steadily grown from 35.2 percent in 2005 to 44.1 percent in 2014.
In 2014 about 46.6 percent of minority veterans were enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system. Of the 2 million enrolled minority veterans, 1.3 million used VA health care in 2014. There are 700,000 minority veterans enrolled who are not using the VA system; 16.9 percent of minority veterans who used VHA health care had a service-connected disability rating. The top five service-connected conditions for minority veterans are tinnitus, PTSD, lower back pain, defective hearing, and limited flexion of the legs. These accounted for nearly 22 percent of all service-connected disabilities for minority veterans in 2014.
These individuals received fewer benefits than non-minority veterans. This is a limited synopsis on how we stand in the VA. These areas must be visited and we must find out why minority veterans are not using the VHA. We need to get them to enroll and make use of benefits they earned through their military service.
One of the recommendations that the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans submited to the VA Secretary in 2017 is that the VA collect and analyze race and ethnicity data to identify, monitor, and address potential disparities that affect minority veterans. Another recommendation is that the VA ensure that Spanish-language versions of the instructions for applications for VA benefits and services are readily available, especially in areas of the country with high Latino/Hispanic populations. By visiting the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans on the web you should be able to educate yourself about what they are doing for minorities. All their annual reports are posted.
I thank those who have sent me information on their issues concerning minority veterans. Please continue to send your comments to Sgtgomez@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org