Jun 23, 2023 - Politics & Policy

VA denied Black veterans health benefits more often than white vets, data shows

The Department of Veterans Affairs building is seen in Washington, D.C., in 2019. Photo: Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Veterans Affairs was more likely to deny disability health benefits to Black veterans than their white counterparts, according to a new government data analysis.

By the numbers: In fiscal year 2023, 84.8% of Black veterans who applied for physical or mental health benefits were granted assistance, compared to 89.4% of white veterans, the VA found.

  • White veterans had a higher grant rate for every year between 2017 and 2023, according to the data the VA shared with Axios.
  • Black veterans apply for disability benefits at higher rates than their white counterparts (43% versus 31.7%), the VA added.
  • "We recognize that in the past there has been institutional discrimination that may have played a role in the adjudication of benefits," VA press secretary Terrence Hayes told Axios.

Driving the news: The VA announced a new initiative Friday that will aim to address disparities in who receives health benefits.

  • The Agency Equity Team will be responsible for helping the VA improve access and care for historically underserved veterans.
  • It will also aim to identify and eliminate disparities beyond race, including age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual identity, the VA said.

Of note: The team was not created solely as a result of the data findings, Hayes said.

  • It's been a key area of focus for VA Secretary Denis McDonough since he took office in 2021, per Hayes.

What's next: Hayes said the new initiative is "unique opportunity" to go directly to veterans of different communities and demographics to inform them of their benefits and encourage them to apply — especially for those who may have been denied in the past.

  • But with the creation of the team, the VA hopes to "figure out a way to eliminate those barriers, eliminate those concerns so every single veteran" who requests benefits "gets it equally across the board," Hayes said.

Go deeper: Study finds Hispanic veterans wait longer for specialists

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