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A Black Vietnam veteran is suing the VA for discrimination

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Earlier this year, a Black Vietnam veteran working with Yale Law School obtained VA records going back two decades. Those records show that Black vets are consistently denied their benefits at a higher rate than white vets. Today he filed suit against the government, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Conley Monk served in Vietnam but was wrongfully denied an honorable discharge, which meant no VA benefits. It took him decades to reverse that. Along the way, he founded the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.

CONLEY MONK: See; my fight is not only for me and my family. It's also for thousands of other veterans that underwent and is undergoing the same problems that I went through.

LAWRENCE: Monk's lawsuit is based on VA data received through the Freedom of Information Act. The VA only produced record since 2001, but the bias was clear, says Adam Henderson with the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

ADAM HENDERSON: For every year from 2001 to 2020, a Black veteran could walk into the VA, file a disability claim and have that claim denied at a statistically significantly higher rate than their white counterpart.

LAWRENCE: And it goes back further, says Conley Monk.

MONK: My father was a World War II vet. He served in Normandy. He came home from the military, and he put in a claim for disability, and they denied it.

LAWRENCE: Monk says life was tough for him and his eight siblings without those benefits. And then Monk and his five children missed out on his earned benefits as a Vietnam vet. VA spokesman Terrence Hayes says he can't comment on the litigation but that VA knows it has a history of racial disparity.

TERRENCE HAYES: I want everybody to understand that we acknowledge this problem and that we're doing everything we can to ensure that all veterans, to include our Black veterans, have timely access to the care and benefits that they've earned.

LAWRENCE: He says the VA is reaching out proactively to Black vets and has launched a study on racism in benefits decisions. But the lawsuit isn't asking for a study. It's calling for those missed benefits to be paid back to Conley Monk and thousands of other Black veterans. Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "LOVE PROCEEDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.