GAO to Investigate Systematic Racism at VA

Categories: VA, Civil Rights, The Insider

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is launching an investigation into systemic racism at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after a national survey by AFGE revealed widespread racial discrimination at VA facilities nationwide. 

The investigation was requested by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who wrote to the GAO that “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.”  

AFGE welcomes the GAO’s investigation.  

“AFGE is pleased to hear that unlike the VA, GAO is investigating our members’ serious claims of systemic racism within the department,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “This problem has been exacerbated under the Trump Administration and will only get worse with actions like Trump’s Executive Order banning diversity training.”  

“For nearly four years, the Trump Administration and VA leadership have attempted to silence worker voices through intimidation, retaliation, and the stripping away of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace, which is a safeguard against illegal racism,” he added. “We are glad that Congress has stepped in to have their backs.” 

According to the national survey conducted by the AFGE National VA Council in August: 

  • 78% of employees reported that racism is a moderate to serious problem at the VA.  
  • 76% of employees surveyed said they had experienced racially charged actions while working at the VA.  
  • 55 % of respondents reported that they had also witnessed racial discrimination against veterans while on the job. 

Black employees, for example, reported being called racial slurs and being subsequently retaliated against for speaking out. They recalled how they were passed over for promotion or witnessed colleagues of color being denied promotions in favor of lesser-experienced white staffers.  

The survey results mark the latest evidence of widespread racism and racial bias going unchecked at the VA under Secretary Robert Wilkie, who was appointed by President Donald Trump amid controversy over Wilkie’s longtime membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. 

“We are thankful to Senators Schatz, Warren, and the GAO for taking this issue seriously and allowing VA employees’ and veterans’ voices to be heard,” said AFGE NVAC President Alma Lee. “It is our hope that through their investigation, they find what we already know to be true and corroborate the painful stories of our members who have been ignored and denigrated by the current VA leadership.” 

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