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Racial disparities exist in Veterans Affairs benefits programs, CT man alleges in federal lawsuit

Signboard of United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Washington, D.C.
Kiyoshi Tanno
Signboard of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

A Vietnam War military veteran from New Haven is suing the federal government, alleging racial discrimination within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Conley Monk Jr., who is Black, believes racial bias kept him from accessing education, housing and disability benefits.

“I’ve been fighting for years to get compensation, reparations, and I’ve been denied benefits,” Monk said at a news conference Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Monk was denied educational assistance, housing assistance and care for Type 2 diabetes that his attorneys say he got from being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. His attorneys also say Monk suffered a stroke in 2007 because of undiagnosed diabetes.

Monk said during the news conference that he filed the lawsuit in support of his family and other veterans.

“Veterans are not treated just, especially the Black veterans,” he said.

The lawsuit states that racial discrimination at the VA led to the denial of “countless meritorious applications by Black veterans, depriving them and their families of care and support that their faithful service had earned.”

In a statement emailed to Connecticut Public, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said “there have been unacceptable disparities in both VA benefits decisions and military discharge status due to racism, which have wrongly left Black veterans without access to VA care and benefits.”

Hayes said the VA is working to “right these wrongs.”

Law student interns at Yale University’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic are helping Monk with the lawsuit. They say records from 2001 to 2020 obtained in a Freedom of Information request show a “statistically significant difference” in VA claim determinations between Black and white veterans.

“What this means is that a Black veteran who served honorably could walk into the VA, file a disability claim and be at a significantly higher likelihood of having that claim denied,” said Adam Henderson, a law student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

As part of relief sought for their client, Monk’s attorneys are asking for compensatory damages in “an amount to be determined at trial.”

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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