Sen. Warren Requests Independent Watchdog Review of Systemic Racism Against Employees & Veterans in the Veterans Affairs Office

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The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.

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WASHINGTON DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of the culture, policies, and practices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to determine the extent to which systemic racism impacts the VA, including whether VA employees and veterans in the benefits offices, medical centers, and other facilities under its jurisdiction experience racial discrimination in the workplace.

The senators’ call for an independent audit of the federal government’s second-largest agency follows the release of troubling findings of a national survey by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents more than 270,000 of VA’s nearly 400,000 employees, revealing that 78% of VA employees believe racism is a “moderate to serious problem” at the VA, 76% have experienced “racially charged actions,” and more than half (55%) have observed racial discrimination against veterans on the job. 

“Reports that racism is a serious problem at VA are especially concerning and demand rigorous scrutiny as our country works to confront systemic racism across our institutions … Racism and racial discrimination at VA must be taken seriously, and the steps to address it must be robust and enduring,” wrote the senators.  

Disturbing allegations of “derogatory language, discrimination and stereotyping” by VA employees include “racial slurs used by white VA staff,” “Black employees … instructed to act as a ‘living display’ of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and George Floyd” in recognition of Juneteenth, “Black nurses being called ‘girl’ in New York, disproportionate discipline and retaliation against Black staff in Milwaukee, (and) plots to fire Black employees in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.”

These reports of racism and other demeaning treatment at VA facilities also indicated that employees who complained faced retaliation when they attempted to elevate their concerns to their superiors.

The senators acknowledged that the Department has released a lengthy “Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan” and has a Center for Minority Veterans. However, the findings of the AFGE survey and the staggering accounts of racism and discrimination reported by VA employees and veterans suggest that these concerns are not being adequately addressed by the Department. 

Senators Warren and Schatz asked the GAO to undertake a review and address a series of questions, such as what the available data reveal about the prevalence of racism and racial discrimination against VA employees and veterans under VA jurisdiction; what systems are used by VA to report, track, and manage allegations of racism; and the effectiveness of the VA’s current policies and practices in addressing alleged incidents of racism.

The senators also asked the GAO to address the effectiveness of current training for VA employees in addressing racism and racial discrimination in the workplace; the impact of racism and racial discrimination on the Department’s ability to retain, attract, and promote personnel of color; and the impact of racism and racial discrimination against veterans in VA facilities on their willingness to utilize VA services and the quality of care they receive.  

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