VA benefits, Black veterans

Black Veteran Sues The VA Over Agency’s Denial Of PTSD Benefits To Black Soldiers

Black veteran Conley Monk Jr sued the federal government on behalf of himself and his father in November 2022 over benefits he says the Department of Veterans Affairs denied the pair due to racial biases. According to NBC Connecticut, this year on Nov. 2, Monk appeared in court to argue the merits of his case against the VA while the VA presented their side. Monk, a Vietnam war veteran, is being represented by a team of lawyers from Yale University.

“This is a wonderful day, to know that we have a chance to get some sort of justice,” Monk said briefly to reporters gathered outside the courtroom.

Deja Morehead, one of Monk’s lawyers from Yale, said in a statement, “Mr. Monk and [National Veterans’ Council for Legal Redress] argued that they suffered emotional, dignitary, and psychological harms from being subjected to the VA’s racially discriminatory benefits system.”

Morehead continued, “And we hope that the court ultimately recognizes the legal duty that the VA owes to the Monk family, to generations of Black veterans, to administer benefits in a non-discriminatory manner.”

VA documents released under the Freedom of Information Request Act corroborate Monk’s claims that Black applicants for VA benefits were not approved at a rate comparable to white applicants for VA benefits, say his lawyers. In a March report, NPR obtained documents showing that Black applicants for benefits relating to PTSD were rejected thirteen percent more than non-Black applicants. Additionally, a whistleblower at the VA told NPR that an internal report was created for senior officials at the organization, and then was buried in 2017.

More recently, on Nov. 2, the VA released more documents to NBC News under a Freedom of Information Act request that show that the VA engaged in a pattern of denying benefits that was stratified along racial lines from 2003 to 2023.

Gary Monk, Conley Monk’s brother, a veteran as well as the executive director of the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, told NBC Connecticut, “I feel there’s a lot of guilt with the country with how they treated their veterans, and so the motion to dismiss doesn’t surprise me because they’re continuing to deny us as usual.”

The denial of Black veterans benefits stretches back to the GI Bills promised during WWII, according to History. The G.I. Bill was designed with benefits that effectively excluded Black soldiers from the rewards they expected for their service to the nation, critics say. Just as redlining emerged from the New Deal, the bill’s language, crafted by the Dixiecrats, was deliberately constructed to deny economic opportunities to Black soldiers, contradicting the promises made to them.

In addition to this, Black soldiers were often designated as dishonorably discharged so that they could not receive their benefits. Those few Black soldiers who were actually able to get their G.I. Bill benefits soon found that the bill was not nearly as advantageous to them as it was to the white soldiers who were able to take full advantage of the benefits offered by the bill, including training in skilled or more advanced labor. Historian Ira Katznelson told History that the denials occurred all over the country, “These impediments were not confined to the South. In New York and the northern New Jersey suburbs, fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI bill supported home purchases by non-whites.”

According to NBC Connecticut, Judge Stephan Underhill, an appointee of Bill Clinton, has indicated that he sees the case as a difficult one to decide. Despite this, the family of both Monks are hopeful that they will receive justice for the denials of their benefits as Conley Monk told NBC Connecticut, “We’ll continue to fight. We have a good team and I pray to God that we win this case.”

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