Department of Veterans Affairs (Photo: bakdc / Shutterstock)

Union survey finds widespread racial bias at VA

Racism and incidents of racial bias are a big problem at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a survey released by the American Federation of Government Employees. The survey reports that 76% of VA employees "said they had experienced racially charged actions while working at the VA" and that 55% of respondents reported witnessing "racial discrimination against veterans while on the job."

Alma L. Lee, the president of the National Veterans Affairs Council, an organization representing VA unions, charged VA Secretary Robert Wilkie with enabling racial discrimination.

“[S]ince your appointment, Lee wrote in an Aug. 6 letter, “it has become abundantly clear that not only are there persistent issues of systemic racism and incidents of racial bias taking place at VA facilities around the country, but that your leadership has cultivated a culture of permissibility in which these issues and incidents go unaddressed.” She charged that employees who have reported instances of racial bias have been “harassed and retaliated against, while those perpetrating and perpetuating racism act with impunity.”

Alma called on Wilkie to acknowledge the problem of bias and racism and take steps in the contract negotiation process to combat racism.

In response to the survey and the letter, VA spokesperson Christina Noel told the Washington Post that "VA does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form."

The VA has also been recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office for its response to sexual harassment complaints. GAO’s June 15 report found that between mid-2014 and mid-2016, an estimated 22% of VA employees experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The VA, GAO said, does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints and has incomplete and outdated policies, information and training. Additionally, misalignment in the VA’s leadership structure creates potential conflicts of interests regarding how it oversees its sexual harassment process.

2021 Digital Almanac

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