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The VA, GAO said, does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints and has incomplete and outdated policies, information and training.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.

Reader comments

Sun, Aug 16, 2020

Racism and age and gender bias is a two way street at the big outfit in Bethesda. Management is biased and goes out of their way to hire and promote friends and family members over existing highly qualified staff. If one inquires about such activities, their career is down the tubes.

Sat, Aug 15, 2020

What is amazing is that white people actually feel that they are being discriminated against at the VA they run the VA system. Take for instance the number of ethnic groups in the VA compared to their white counterparts? come on now no comparison. Its deeply frustrating to experience racism and when one reports it to be ignored or seen as an opportunist trying to bulk the system.Take for instance where I work 97% of management is white and if you go against them they team up and declare mutiny. I too cannot wait until I get out. George Floyd and others are making news because they are being recorded. Thank God for cell phones, you all cannot even imagine all the none recordings.

Thu, Aug 13, 2020

It doesn't matter if a women wants to wear a short skirt or dress. We shouldn't be harassed, that is not the problem. There should be a dress code. Some women can't help the way their bodies are shaped. We shouldn't be harassed. Their is blatant racism @ VA headquarters downtown. I have been there for over 30 years and have seen more Veterans with no experience get jobs/promotions just because they are Veterans....not cool. Then they write up the position descriptions for a grade 2 times higher than it needs to be. I will be happy when I retire next year!!! The whole place is just a mess!!!!

Tue, Aug 11, 2020

VA is one of the few places here no one wants to work. Than when supervisor takes action it becomes racism. VA need to enforce there dress code they do not. Lady or two where skirts or dresses shorter than requirements. They are located in Blood Lab area Wash DC VA.This may help with the sexaual harassments charges

Tue, Aug 11, 2020 DC

I see that nothing much has changed since we were riffed from the DVA 24 years ago!!!

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