VA Announces Study On Racial Disparities in Benefits Payments
In February 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs was put on notice via Presidential executive order to address issues related to racial disparities in the VA benefits system. President Joe Biden’s executive order includes this justification for the order:
“(M)embers of underserved communities — many of whom have endured generations of discrimination and disinvestment — still confront significant barriers to realizing the full promise of our great Nation, and the Federal Government has a responsibility to remove these barriers.”
The President adds, “It is imperative to reject the narrow, cramped view of American opportunity as a zero-sum game.”
In late June 2023, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its response to the executive order, a “new equity team” designed not only to address real or perceived inequities in the system but also to address similar issues associated with hiring, promotion, and career progression of VA employees.
The Start of the I*DEA Panel
The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Council, or I*DEA, is the formal name of the group responsible for studying these problems. The team is dedicated to “removing barriers” for veterans and VA employees.
A VA statement on the I*DEA Council notes the new team will help the VA deliver on that promise” to remove barriers, “making sure that we provide every veteran with the world-class care and benefits they deserve — no matter their age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual identity,” according to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, who is quoted in the statement.
Two Efforts At Once
And this initiative isn’t the only one. There is also a newly created (as of June 2023) office operating in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) working toward similar ends.
“This new agency equity team will help us deliver on that promise, making sure that we provide every veteran with the world-class care and benefits they deserve — no matter their age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual identity,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
McDonough adds that the Council’s “first order of business” is to identity “any disparities in VA health care and benefits” and end them.
Why the Changes?
Some sources imply this executive order may have been inspired by a lawsuit filed against the VA by a veteran named Conley Monk, Jr. who alleged the VA has discriminated against veterans of color “for decades”. The eventual outcome of the lawsuit? Conley won, with the caveat that “Black veterans were denied at a rate nearly 6 percentage points higher than rates for Caucasian vets — discrimination he said that dates back decades” according to a Military.com report.
A news story filed by WSHU Public Radio in Connecticut notes, and we quote, “The VA has admitted to disparities in benefits decisions due to racism.”
While some at the Department of Veterans Affairs may dispute the reasons for these disparities, the VA statement about the new study and panel includes an acknowledgement that the department’s mission is to serve ALL veterans and their families, and the VA seeks to end ”any disparities in the delivery of earned benefits to veterans.”
Related: Military Spouse Benefits
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.