Honorable Few – Capt. J.J. Harris

Marine Corps League Detachment #1302

VA updating outreach work in effort to end benefits gap for Black vets

Veterans Affairs officials will overhaul its outreach efforts to transitioning troops and new veterans as part of an effort to close gaps in disability benefits grant rates between Black and white vets, department leaders announced Wednesday.

The move comes after nearly nine months of work on the issue from VA’s equity action team, formed in response to reports of disparities in how different racial groups access federal veterans benefits and part of broader administration efforts to identify and correct discriminatory practices in government programs.

The VA work will include visits to at least 15 military installations to improve outreach efforts to transitioning service members. It will also entail updating transition program curriculum to better address potential gaps in information for Black veterans, and working directly with veterans groups to better engage with those individuals.

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“It’s our job to provide every veteran with the world-class care and benefits they deserve, no matter who they are, what they look like, who they love, where they are from, or how they identify,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.

“That means investigating any disparities in VA health care and benefits and eliminating them. That’s exactly what this new study and plan will help us do. We will not rest until any and all disparities at VA are a thing of the past.”

Last summer, researchers from the Government Accountability Office found that Black veterans were less likely than any other racial group to have their initial disability claims approved by the department. From 2010 to 2020, roughly 61% of Black veterans saw those claims accepted, as opposed to 75% of white veterans.

VA’s own studies, released with their new action plan on Wednesday, showed that from 2017 to 2023, Black veterans had a higher acceptance rate for claims submitted within the first year (85% to 83% for whites) but a lower rate after that (65% to 68% for whites).

However, for specific injuries, the gap is wider. Fewer black veterans receive disability compensation for mental health conditions than white vets (13% vs. 22%). Black vets also have a 6% lower grant rate for those injuries than their white peers.

Researchers said the evidence underscores the importance of filing soon after leaving the service, before the time away from military life creates complications with documentation and memory of injuries. Officials said dating back to 2011, they saw no racial disparities for veterans who file a disability claim within that first 12 months.

The solution, according to department leaders, is to ensure that Black veterans file earlier, when their claims are more likely to be successful.

Along with the transition outreach changes, VA officials will also update scripts and training for their VA Solid Start program — which sees a department employee call recently separated veterans three times in their first year out of service — to better inform new veterans of their earned benefits.

Department leaders also pledged as part of the equity plan to conduct more research on disparities in VA benefits usage, to include health care usage rates among women veterans and trust rates among a variety of minority groups in the veterans community.

“We recognize that eliminating inequities of the past will not happen overnight, but we are fully dedicated to carrying it out with promptness and precision,” VA Under Secretary for Benefits Josh Jacobs said in a statement on the new work. “We will share our progress and our findings every step of the way.”

More information on the plan is available on the department’s website.