Racial disparities in the US deny Black veterans with PTSD benefits
An open records lawsuit was filed by an advocacy group for Black veterans, which led to the report emergence.
Black veterans were more likely to be denied benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder than their white counterparts, according to a newly surfaced 2017 internal Veterans Affairs report.
An analysis that crunched data from the fiscal year 2011 through 2016 showed that Black veterans who are seeking disability benefits for PTSD were rejected 57% of the time, compared to 43% for white veterans.
The report came out as part of an open records lawsuit filed by an advocacy group for Black veterans.
The agency did not immediately have data on the racial breakdown of PTSD disability benefits awards, said Terrence Hayes, a spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, who continued to say that the agency “is gathering the data and will share it once fully compiled.”
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The spokesperson wrote in an email that the agency could not comment on the ongoing litigation, but promised that Denis McDonough, VA Secretary, is still committed to addressing racial disparities regarding VA benefits.
Hayes pointed out that McDonough announced the creation of an Equity Team. “That team’s first order of business will be to look into disparities in grant rates to Black veterans — as well as all minority and historically underserved veterans — and eliminate them," she told reporters.
Richard Brookshire, a Black veteran who served in Afghanistan as a combat medic, co-founded the Black Veterans Project in Baltimore. The project filed the Freedom of Information request lawsuit.
Brookshire expressed his frustration that the government aggressively recruits Black soldiers from Black neighborhoods but refuses to share data on disparities. “If they don’t know, it’s because they don’t want to know,” he said in an interview for NBC Washington.
Brookshire indicated that the VA initially provided him with data from 2002 through 2020, analyzed by a team at Columbia University. The data did in fact display disparities; however, the VA did not share its 2017 analysis until he filed the FOIA lawsuit.
The 2017 analysis is significant because it portrays that minority veterans showed higher rates (5.8%) of PTSD than nonminority veterans (5%).
The disparities were highlighted in a series of reports by NBC News Now and NBC local stations in a series called "American Vets: Benefits, Race, and Inequality."
'Ever since I came back, I knew I had a problem'
Conley Monk Junior, 74, served as a Marine in Vietnam. Monk reported that he remained haunted by a gruesome incident; a fellow marine drove over a Vietnamese man in front of him.
Monk expressed that he was unaware of the psychological implications which lingered after the incident. The violence he witnessed in Vietnam contributed to his PTSD.
“Ever since I came back from Vietnam, I knew that I had a problem, but I didn’t know what it was. I knew that every time I would get angry as someone would put their hands on me, I would react, and it would get me in trouble.”
Monk was later transferred to Okinawa, where he also had two altercations which placed him in a “constant state of fear and hypervigilance,” according to court documents.
“You know, my sisters, or brothers, anyone put their hands on me, I would wake up fighting. So I knew I had a problem. But I didn’t know the name of it," Monk said.