The Equity Team will examine grant rate differences and develop policies to ensure fair treatment in the decision process for all veterans, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. The team’s first objective is to analyze claim approval rates.
He did not give a timeline for the team to report findings and recommendations.
"I expect that team to consider policies across VA to address these concerns, including changes in structure, training, quality control, outreach and more," McDonough said during a press conference.
This move comes after a November lawsuit from Black former Marine and Vietnam veteran Conley Monk Jr., who alleged unfair denials for claims of disability benefits, housing assistance, and GI Bill education benefits for decades. He received compensation in 2020.
According to VA data, nearly 30% of disability claims filed by Black veterans 2002-2020 were denied, as opposed to 24.2% for white veterans. 30.3% of claims from Black veterans were fully approved, 36% from Hispanic veterans were approved, and 37.1% from white veterans, according to The Associated Press.
"This is an issue we have been wrestling with ... since I arrived. Fact is, we've been trying to figure out these historic disparate outcomes for some time. We need a concerted effort from this team to not only get to the bottom of the why, but then to get to enacting policies and procedures to fix it," McDonough said.
In February, President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring equity teams across cabinet departments and initiatives to improve racial equity and support in the U.S. government.
"Members of underserved communities -- many of whom have endured generations of discrimination and disinvestment -- still confront significant barriers to realizing the full promise of our great Nation, and the Federal Government has a responsibility to remove these barriers," Biden wrote in the order Feb. 16.
Research has shown that veterans of color waited longer to get care during the COVID-19 pandemic and that white veterans received advanced therapies for COVID-19 at higher rates than Black veterans at VA health facilities.