WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees applauds the Government Accountability Office’s decision announced yesterday to investigate systemic racism at the Department of Veterans Affairs following the troubling results from an internal survey conducted by our union, which found that 78 percent of VA employees surveyed said that racism is a moderate or serious problem at the agency.
The investigation – which comes at the request of Sens. Brian Schatz and Elizabeth Warren – will look into the culture, policies, and practices of the VA and will determine the extent to which systemic racism impacts VA employees, veterans’ benefits, and the quality of care given at VA facilities.
“AFGE is pleased to hear that, unlike the VA, GAO is investigating our members’ serious claims of systemic racism within the department,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “For far too long, VA leadership has turned a blind eye to employee claims of racism, disparaged their credibility in the media, and refused to meet with the union to discuss this serious issue. These problems have been exacerbated under the Trump administration and will only get worse with actions like President Trump’s executive order banning diversity training at federal agencies.”
In response to the survey results, AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee penned a letter to Secretary Robert Wilkie calling on the VA to take action and requesting that leadership meet with AFGE – which represents 270,000 employees throughout the VA – to collaborate on best practices to combat racism in the workplace.
“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,” Kelley added. “We thank Senators Schatz and Warren for their leadership on this issue and having the backs of the hardworking federal employees who care for our veterans.”
According to GAO, the investigation will begin in about six months.