VA faces court challenge from Black Veterans Project, National Veterans Council

The Black Veterans Project and the National Veterans Council are taking on the Department of Veterans Affairs. Photo credit File photo

The Black Veterans Project and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress are searching for answers and taking on the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The groups recently filed a lawsuit against the VA over its failure to be fully forthcoming in producing requested data and records as required by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

BVP and NVCLR filed FOIA requests with three VA units early this spring to obtain records on racial disparities in disability compensation benefits and VA healthcare services.

“Following a widely known history of long-standing benefit obstruction and anti-black racism and discrimination by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Black Veterans Project seeks to compel transparency and accountability,” Richard Brookshire, co-founder and executive director of BVP, said in a release.

Brookshire said that generations of Black veterans have been denied benefits owed to them and their families for their service and sacrifice to our nation. Acquiring this data is but a starting point for a public reckoning around racial inequity and the injustices faced by Black veterans across the United States, he added.

In the FOIA requests, BVP and NVCLR asked that the benefits data provided be broken down by race and gender. They also sought records pertaining to internal reviews or studies of racial bias, discrimination complaints, and anti-discrimination policies and training for VA employees.

VA has provided some records, but the complaint challenges the insufficiencies of VA’s response to date, including its failure to conduct adequate searches for records, and failure to respond to certain requests entirely.

An initial analysis of the 2018 data the VA turned over reveals that the VA grants disability benefits claims at a significantly lower rate for Black veterans than for veterans overall.

“Black Americans have fought and sacrificed for America’s freedom since this nation’s founding,” said Garry Monk, executive director of NVCLR. “Yet, Black veterans have long faced racial discrimination from the VA, the very agency that is tasked with serving them.”

Melanie McGruder, a law student intern in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, said VA’s delayed and incomplete responses to its clients’ requests frustrate the purpose of FOIA, which is to ensure that the public can know what the government is up to.

“The Board of Veterans Appeals, for instance, one of the three VA units from which BVP and NVCLR sought records, has completely ignored the request, in plain violation of FOIA,” she said. “What is the BVA trying to hide?”

BVP and NVCLR are represented by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School.

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