BY GUMERSINDO GOMEZ, CHAIR
The Minority Affairs Committee would like to share with you an article that the VVA Veterans Benefits team put together concerning minority veterans. It has taken a pandemic, murders, riots, and looting to wake this country up to the issues that we have been dealing with for years.
A recent VVA press release condemned racism and recognized the plight of minority communities in the United States. Systemic racism continues to affect minority veterans, their VA benefits and health care. Minority veterans comprise 22 percent of the veteran population. Evidence shows that injustices occur both during and after their time in the military. Racial disparities in VA services are pervasive.
For example, although a majority of black veterans rate service-connection benefits as the most important measure in meeting their financial and health care needs, they remain disproportionately unaware of VA services. Surveys also indicate that minority veterans incur higher rates of exposure to combat and environmental hazards, such as Agent Orange. Furthermore, studies focused on veterans from the Vietnam War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq show that black veterans suffer from PTSD at higher rates than their white counterparts but are less likely to be screened for it.
An increased probability of in-service disabilities and a lower likelihood of having health insurance substantiate a vital need for VA services for minority veterans. But black veterans still face disparities even after gaining access to the VA service-connection process. Studies show that when compared to other races, black veterans are significantly less likely to be granted favorable findings for PTSD service connection. Disparities in the claims development and decision process demonstrate unequal treatment and a need for more representation.
We believe that VVA is well equipped to use its resources to confront these disparities. The goal of VVA’s Benefits Department is to make a significant impact on issues affecting minority veterans, as well as to provide leadership for other service organizations. Accordingly, the Veterans Benefits team proposes the following:
VVA should conduct a statistical analysis of client representation to ensure VVA is proportionally representing minorities.
VVA should urge the VA to conduct its own systematic review of disparities in service-connection decisions and failures to provide education on available benefits.
VVA should increase outreach and education programs in minority communities.
VVA should implement sensitivity training among VSOs who frequently engage with members of the minority community.
VVA is the lead organization for Vietnam veterans’ issues and, as such, is uniquely qualified to be a catalyst for progress in racial disparities among veterans. During the Vietnam War the country witnessed racially charged sentiments stemming from the Civil Rights movement. VVA’s founding principle, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” should guide VVA to be a leader in implementing change.
The Minority Affairs Committee would like to thank Felicia Mullaney, the director of VVA’s Benefits Program, and her team for writing this article.
If you are a minority veteran and need to bring up an issue, don’t hesitate to contact me by email at Sgtgomez@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413-883-4508.