A federal lawsuit filed by the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic alleges that, for decades, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) discriminated against Black veterans by denying their disability claims at significantly higher rates compared to their white counterparts. It’s almost as if even Black people who serve their country can’t count on said country to do right by them. Go figure.
According to CNN, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Conley Monk Jr., a 74-year-old former United States Marine Corps member who claims Black veterans like himself have been discriminated against by the VA for decades, citing VA records from 2001 to 2020.
According to a Yale University statistician who analyzed the VA records, the records show throughout the two-decade period that the VA denied Black veterans disability compensation at an average rate of 29.5%, compared to the 24.2% of White veterans who were denied disability benefits. The VA notably granted disability compensation to Black veterans at an average rate of 30.3% and White veterans at an average rate of 37.1%, the lawsuit says the statistician found.
“I’m willing to get involved in this fight,” Monk told CNN on Tuesday. “This is something that’s not only going to benefit me, but it’s going to benefit other veterans. And if I have to lead the charge, then therefore I will lead the charge.”
Geoff Bennett, the chief Washington correspondent for PBS NewsHour, recently sat down with Monk and Richard Brookshire, an Army veteran who co-founded the Black Veterans Project, to talk about the lawsuit as well as the pain and suffering endured by Black veterans whose sacrifice is met with indifference.
“Mr. Monk, you enlisted in November 1968, you served in Vietnam. But you were wrongfully denied an honorable discharge, which meant that you receive 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?” Bennett asked.
“It really damaged me by this, not letting my family received any form of benefits,” Monk responded. “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 the 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,” he continued. “And I came home, I couldn’t get my job back. I joined, I did not get drafted, you know, 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 rifle dues when I came back from Vietnam. I served honorably, in Vietnam. You know, I was involved in a lot of different combat actions. It was totally a, you know, disgrace to me and my family and the fact that we was denied benefits that I was rightfully entitled to.”
Yeah, this certainly isn’t a shining endorsement for anyone who is thinking about enlisting in the U.S. military. But it’s especially disheartening for Black people because we’re told to love this country despite our history with it (as well as our present, if we’re being honest), and here we have a Black veteran who shows his love for America through sacrifice and risk of life and health, and America doesn’t appear to be showing that love back.
“Yeah, I served as a combat medic for seven years for those one active duty three of them in the New York State National Guard, and had a difficult transition, you know, out of the military — there wasn’t actually anticipating, it wasn’t taken seriously by the VA,” Brookshire told Bennett in explaining his motivation to start the Black Veterans Project.
“So, I found myself unfortunately, on the other side of a suicide attempt. And it just so happens that after that attempts, I started to really engage the black veterans community. But I also started to engage like, what’s — what are the disparities? Like, I mean, I’m living with them, I’m starting to see them. But like, getting a better sense of the numbers was kind of like the first instinct for me. So, we went to Yale and said, hey, like, you know, we want the most contemporary data to kind of look at, are their disparities in disability compensation because I’m — I’ve heard about disparities in the GI bill at the turn of World War Two. Conley is a perfect example of how dishonorable discharges, have perpetuated, locking many black vets even to this very day, out of access to their benefits.”
You can read the transcripts of the full interview here.
According to CNN, Monk is seeking compensatory damages and to have his legal fees paid for by the VA. He first filed an administrative claim in February 2022, but the VA didn’t respond, so the suit was re-filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision.
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