Department of Veterans Affairs

VA Announces New Team to Address Racial Disparities

NBC Universal, Inc.

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs just announced a new team responsible for investigating and eliminating racial disparities inside the agency's veterans benefits program that have left Black veterans unable to collect the military benefits they are rightfully owed.

The action comes the same week NBC Washington, NBC News Now, as well NBC stations in Philadelphia, Connecticut, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area, debuted a series of online and televised investigative reports exposing serious disparities within the VA's benefits program.

At a Thursday press conference, VA Secretary Denis McDonough acknowledged the agency has not always kept its promise to deliver care and benefits, especially to Black veterans, saying, “We have been wrestling with disparities based on race in VA, benefits, decisions, and military discharge status.” McDonough announced he directed his staff to immediately form a new equity team, which will focus on investigating discriminatory practices at the VA and to eliminate them.

"We're asking the equity team to dig into why," McDonough said. "And not only dig into answering why that's happening, but then to put in place a series of policies and procedures going forward that will allow us to address those differences to ensure that they don't keep happening."

He noted the timing of the announcement stems from the importance his office has placed on addressing the issue as well as President Joe Biden’s executive order, issued last month, which required “embedding equity into government-wide processes” as well as developing “equitable outcomes through government policies.”

McDonough commended the role the media is playing, including the joint NBC News investigation, to give a voice to veterans and holding the agency accountable.

“We won't rest until every veteran gets the world class care and benefits that they have earned,” he said.

Earlier this week, Reps. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., reintroduced the GI Bill Restoration Act, which would compensate World War II vets and their descendants for education and housing loans they were promised but denied.

Reported by Tracee Wilkins, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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